The effort to change the narrative on Social Security got another big backer this week, when Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) signed on to legislation that would expand Social Security instead of cutting it. Brown talked to Greg Sargent about the legislation, about how to start injecting some reality into the political discussion about the program, and about why Democrats need to be going on offense on entitlements.
“There are two fundamental numbers that make this a moral case for Democrats to make,” Brown told me in an interview today. “One is that a third of seniors rely on Social Security for virtually their entire income. The other is that more than half of seniors rely on Social Security for significantly more than half their income.” [...]The Serious People also are far, far out of step with the American people, particularly older Americans, who are overwhelmingly opposed to any cuts to Social Security, whether it be chained CPI or raising the retirement age. Sixty-two percent of people 50 or older are opposed to chained CPI and 58 percent opposed raising the retirement age. Just as many are overwhelmingly supportive of strengthening the program by raising the tax cap. That's one of the solutions provided in the Strengthening Social Security Act Brown signed on to, along with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Mark Begich (D-AK).
With Washington chatter centered on a “grand bargain” or at least a “mini bargain” that might involve entitlement cuts, expanding Social Security might seem like a dead end. But when I pushed Brown on whether Dems would rally behind the idea—after all, Chained CPI is in the President’s budget—he insisted Dems should not cooperate in allowing a “Serious” center-right consensus that equates “fiscal responsibility” with cutting entitlement benefits to reign unchallenged.
“The Serious People—with a capital S and a capital P—all have really good pensions and good health care and good salaries,” Brown said. “Raise the cap. There are ways we can bring a lot of money into Social Security. Some Democrats are a bit cowed by the Serious People.”
Expanding Social Security isn't going to move anytime soon in Congress, but what these senators are doing is giving a voice to the majority of the public, and putting the idea out there that Social Security shouldn't be sacrificed at a time when everyone's personal economy—that includes seniors—is so perilous. They're helping change the conversation from austerity to reality. Maybe the question for candidates in 2014 won't be "are you willing to cut entitlements," but "are you willing to make Social Security stronger."