The Social Security debate has moved left, according to The Wall Street Journal. That shift, evidenced by presidential candidates’ plans and a bill backed by nearly 90% of House Democrats, departs from years of conversations about an elusive bipartisan compromise where Democrats agree to lower promised benefits and Republicans accept higher taxes. Instead, President Trump has ruled out cuts to future benefits. Democrats have lined up behind larger benefits and higher taxes.
Democrats’ proposals show a party growing more comfortable with tax increases and shifting away from trying to reduce budget deficits. They have been nudged by activists trying to reset Social Security discussions dormant in Congress since the failure of President George W. Bush’s partial privatization plan. Now, Democrats want to expand the popular program, emphasizing low-income retirees, widows and people who left the workforce to care for family members.
President Trump’s no-benefit-cuts position in 2016 shrank the partisan divide, tempering the Democrats’ advantage on the issue. Positions taken since then by House Democrats and candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden widen that gap again.
In a 2018 Pew Research Center poll, 78% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans opposed cuts in future benefits. Younger voters showed more support for reducing future benefits, and 42% of people ages 18 to 29 assume they won’t get any benefits.
Nonpartisan groups still produce proposals along the old-compromise lines. Recently, the Concord Coalition and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget offered one designed to boost economic growth. It would encourage older workers to delay retirement and provide a “poverty protection benefit” for low-income workers. But in Congress, there is little urgency or appetite for compromise proposals. Social Security may stumble toward insolvency in 2034—sooner if there is a recession or later in a booming economy.