President Obama has finally come out in favor of expanding Social Security benefits:
It’s time we finally made Social Security more generous and increased its benefits so today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they have earned.
Clearly, the ground has shifted—within the Democratic Party and, in particular, with Obama, who as late as 2012 was willing to cut Social Security (as part of an ill-fated attempt at “entitlement reform”).
As Daniel Marans, Arthur Delaney, and Ryan Grim explain, there were many progressive groups involved in fighting against attacks on Social Security—in the midst of Bowles-Simpson austerity fever and the progress made by Third Way advocates inside the Democratic Party—which then turned to expanding Social Security benefits.
Elizabeth Warren played an important role in shifting the discourse on Social Security.
So has the success of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for president.
Although the discourse on Social Security had been moving left for some time, it is impossible to ignore the role that the current presidential election cycle likely played in Obama’s timing.
The presidential race has been characterized by waves of economic populism in both major parties. Even presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump claims he will not cut Social Security benefits.
On the Democratic side, Sanders has made his career-long devotion to Social Security a centerpiece of his campaign. The Vermont progressive touts legislationhe first introduced in March 2015 to enact an across-the-board expansion of benefits.
Hillary Clinton expressed support for targeted increases in Social Security benefits rather than across-the-board expansion. Sanders and progressive groups demanded she clarify that this included ruling out benefit cuts of any kind, since some bipartisan reform plans — including that of the Bowles-Simpson commission — couple major benefit cuts with modest increases for poor and vulnerable groups. . .
“Bernie has marshaled millions of people against cuts and for expansion and showed the power of those people in the Democratic Party,” said Neil Sroka, communications director of Democracy for America, another key progressive group in the Social Security fight.
At least on this issue, in the face of pressure from Warren and in response to the Sanders campaign, Obama and the rest of the Democratic Party have finally caught up with the overwhelming majority (85 percent) of Americans who (according to a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll [pdf]) believe protecting the future of Social Security is extremely or very important for the next administration.