TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore has a post up at the Washington Monthly on “Counter-Polarizing the Social Security Debate,” which explores the ramifications of Dems taking a more assertive position in favor of increasing, not cutting SS benefits. Kilgore explains:
The idea has been kicking around think tanks (notably the Economic Policy Institute) and the blogosphere (particularly Atrios, who’s made this a personal crusade) for a while, but now is getting some serious buzz in the Senate: it’s time not to trim but to expand Social Security benefits.
Unions and progressive activists are uniting around Tom Harkin’s bill to boost benefits by $70 a month for all Social Security recipients (and more for those heavily dependent on benefits for retirement security), increase (rather than decrease, as the “chained CPI” tentatively accepted by the White House as part of a not-going-to-happen “grand bargain” would do) the cost-of-living adjustment formula, and pay for it all by eliminating the regressive payroll tax cap for the program.
Kilgore quotes Sen. Sherrod Brown, via Greg Sragent, on the need for Dems to quit dithering about what to do regarding Republican efforts to cut Social Security, and get out front in a big way: “Why would we play on their playing field? Democrats need to play offense here. Force Republicans to say what it is they really want to do. Republicans just don’t like social insurance.” Kilgore adds that “Brown is talking about counter-polarizing the “entitlement” debate instead of taking a “responsible but flexible” posture to be contrasted with GOP “extremism.” Kilgore concludes,
The actual ace-in-the-hole for the “expand Social Security” message may be less about shifting the frame or changing the playing field than the simple fact that voters, and particularly the older voters on which the Republican Party so heavily relies, are likely to support higher benefits however they feel about “entitlements” as an abstraction, and whether or not they are vulnerable to GOP efforts to wedge them away from younger Americans with some sort of grandfathering provision for current retirees. And as noted earlier, the broader subject of rapidly eroding retirement security is long-overdue for serious public debate.
It makes a lot of sense, especially now, that recent opinion poll data indicates that senior voters are tilting more towards Democrats. Dems calling for better Social Security benefits just might provide the edge needed to secure a healthy majority of this high turnout constituency in 2014.