John Edwards on Social Security

2004 Democratic Nominee for Vice President; Former Jr Senator (NC)

Raise the cap on Social Security taxes

We have said we won’t privatize, we won’t cut benefits, we won’t raise the retirement age. But you’ve got to have a way to pay for it. You’ve got to do something about the cap on Social Security taxes, which is now capped at $97,000. It means if somebody is making $80,000 a year, every dime of their income is taxed for Social Security. But if you are making $50 million a year, only the first $97,000 is taxed. That’s not right. People ought to be paying their Social Security taxes.
Source: 2008 Congressional Black Caucus Democratic debate Jan 21, 2008

Don’t privatize; reduce benefits; nor raise retirement age

Q: There was a spirited exchange between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama on whether to increase taxes on income levels for Social Security. Right now the cap, maximum, that is taxed is $97,500. Sen. Obama suggested it go up, that the wealthy can afford to pay more in order to keep Social Security robust. Sen. Clinton was not ready to do that, saying that there are middle-class people making more than $97,500. Does she have a point?

A: Well, she has a point. But the point doesn’t go as far as it needs to go. The problem is that Sen. Clinton is not for privatizing, not for reducing benefits, not for raising the retirement age. I completely agree with all that. But she’s made no proposal about what we’re going to do. So what is her proposal? That she set up a bipartisan commission, and they’ll solve the problem. The president of the US has to lead on these issues. I agree mostly with what Sen. Obama is saying. I do think we have to do something about the cap.

Source: CNN Late Edition: 2007 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer Nov 18, 2007

Buffer zone from $97K to $200K, then lift cap above $200K

Social Security caps at about $97,000 of income which means if you make $85,000, every dime of your income is taxed for Social Security. But if you make $100 million, then the first $97,000 is taxed and the rest is not. I think we have to do something about the cap. My difference with Senator Obama’s [proposal to remove the cap] is, I do think there are people between $97,000, up to about $200,000, who, because of where they live, because of the cost of living where they live, are in fact in the middle class. And we don’t want to raise taxes on those people. And so I would create a buffer zone between about $97,000 and $200,000.

Beyond that I would raise the cap. I’d lift the cap. But I think we have to have some really specific ideas about what we want to do. I don’t agree with Sen. Obama exactly on what he’s proposing, but at least he’s proposing something. We’re not legislators. We are running for the presidency. And voters deserve to hear the truth, and they deserve to hear specifics.

Source: CNN Late Edition: 2007 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer Nov 18, 2007

Raise cap with “protective zone” from $97K to $200K

EDWARDS: I think we have to be very careful to protect the middle class, so, specifically, what I would do as president is create a protective zone between $97,000 up to around $200,000 because there are a lot of firefighter couples, for example, that make $100,000 to $115,000 a year. We don’t want to raise taxes on them. But I do believe that people who make $50 million or $100 million a year ought to be paying Social Security taxes on that income.

KUCINICH: Of course we ought to be raising the cap in order to protect Social Security. And in addition, we should be thinking about lowering the retirement age to 65. People’s bodies break down.

DODD: You could do this by basically readjusting that tax so it doesn’t have to affect everyone in society.

Q: But you’d raise the cap to $500,000?

DODD: You’ve got to raise it up, clearly, to do this.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate at Dartmouth College Sep 6, 2007

We can’t grow our way out of Social Security crisis

Q: Can you grow your way out of the Social Security crisis?

A: No, sir, you cannot. You cannot solve this problem just by setting up a bipartisan commission. All of us are for that. You cannot solve this problem just by growing the economy. All of us are for that. But the American people deserve to hear the truth. They have heard so much politician double-talk on this issue. That’s the reason young people don’t believe Social Security’s going to be there for them. Why would you possibly trust a bunch of politicians who say the same thing over and over--“We’re going to grow our way out of this”--but nothing changes. The honest truth is there are hard choices to be made here. The choice I would make as president is on the cap. But I don’t understand why somebody who makes $50 million a year pays Social Security tax on the first $97,000, and not all the rest, while somebody who makes $85,000 a year pays Social Security tax on every dime of their income.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate at Dartmouth College Sep 6, 2007

Social Security has lifted 13M seniors out of poverty

The truth is that ambitious goals, creative ideas, and practical solutions can make great progress against poverty. They already have. Amid the misery of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Today Social Security lifts 13 million seniors out of poverty.

Thirty years later our nation made more progress through the War on Poverty. Since Medicare’s creation in 1965, poverty among the elderly has been reduced by nearly two-thirds. Medicaid provides healthcare for more than 52 million Americans. Head Start has improved the health and school readiness of more than 20 million children.

Source: Ending Poverty in America, by John Edwards, p.257-258 Apr 2, 2007

Maybe raise the cap from $90,000, or eliminate the cap

Q: What about for Americans, say, who are 50 and younger, the next generation? Could you establish something different for them?

A: I think there’re multiple ways to do it. One example is, we now have a cap on the taxes that’re paid. It’s about $90,000 And does that cap make sense? Maybe not. If we’re going to raise the cap or eliminate the cap, do we need to have a bubble for middle income families that earn over $90,000 a year? Maybe. I think there’re tools available to us.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Feb 4, 2007

We have social contract to not raise retirement age

Q: In terms of Social Security, would you consider raising the age of eligibility?

A: This is the one area where it will require really serious bipartisan effort to get anything done. You know, this has been approached and approached and approached in the past. As president of the United States, I would bring together leaders on both sides and experts and try to put together something that would work on both Social Security and Medicare. But, yes, people are living longer. You know, this applies to my own father and yours; we still have a lot of people in this country who work very, very hard and, when they reach retirement age, they deserve to be able to retire. And I just think we can’t ignore the fact that we have made a social contract with millions and millions of Americans, and we can’t go out there and just yank it out from under them.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Feb 4, 2007

Don’t divert payroll taxes to private accounts

I oppose diverting payroll taxes to private accounts but support offering matching accounts to workers on top of Social Security. I oppose raising the retirement age or cutting COLAs.
Source: 2004 Presidential National Political Awareness Test Mar 3, 2004

Keep stock market out of Social Security

Q: Can the stock market be a component of the Social Security retirement system?

EDWARDS: No, I don’t believe it can. I think we have to do a number of things. One is, in order to lengthen the financial viability of Social Security, the single most important thing is to get away from this deficit spending that this president has put us in and move back to fiscal responsibility.

Source: Debate at Pace University in Lower Manhattan Sep 25, 2003

Federal match for every dollar put into savings

We have a train wreck coming. We have the onslaught of the baby boomers coming. We have government that’s in deficit, getting deeper into deficit. What we ought to do is help people save. We have one of the worst private savings rates in the world. I would match dollar for dollar the savings of middle-income families to allow them to save privately to help us address this problem.
Source: Debate at Pace University in Lower Manhattan Sep 25, 2003

Voted NO on using the Social Security Surplus to fund tax reductions.

Vote on a motion to table (or kill) the motion to recommit the bill to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee with instructions directing the committee to "correct the fact that the bill uses" Social Security surpluses for tax breaks.
Reference: Bill S.1429 ; vote number 1999-236 on Jul 30, 1999

Voted NO on Social Security Lockbox & limiting national debt.

This vote limited debate on the amendment offered by Sen. Abraham (R-MI) that would have created a Social Security "lockbox" and establish limits on the public debt. [A YES vote was for a lockbox]. This vote failed because 3/5 of the Senate did not vote.
Status: Cloture Motion Rejected Y)54; N)45; NV)1
Reference: Motion to invoke cloture on Amdt #254 to S. 557; Bill S. 557 ; vote number 1999-90 on Apr 22, 1999

Create Retirement Savings Accounts.

Edwards adopted the manifesto, "A New Agenda for the New Decade":

Balance America’s Commitments to the Young and the Old
An ever-growing share of the federal budget today consists of automatic transfers from working Americans to retirees. Moreover, the costs of the big entitlements for the elderly -- Social Security and Medicare -- are growing at rates that will eventually bankrupt them and that could leave little to pay for everything else government does. We can’t just spend our way out of the problem; we must find a way to contain future costs. The federal government already spends seven times as much on the elderly as it does on children. To allow that ratio to grow even more imbalanced would be grossly unfair to today’s workers and future generations. In addition, Social Security and Medicare need to be modernized to reflect conditions not envisioned when they were created in the 1930s and the 1960s. Social Security, for example, needs a stronger basic benefit to bolster its critical role in reducing poverty in old age. Medicare needs to offer retirees more choices and a modern benefit package that includes prescription drugs. Such changes, however, will only add to the cost of the programs unless they are accompanied by structural reforms that restrain their growth and limit their claim on the working families whose taxes support the programs.

Source: The Hyde Park Declaration 00-DLC7 on Aug 1, 2000

Rated 100% by the ARA, indicating a pro-senior voting record.

Edwards scores 100% by the ARA on senior issues

The mission of the Alliance for Retired Americans is to ensure social and economic justice and full civil rights for all citizens so that they may enjoy lives of dignity, personal and family fulfillment and security. The Alliance believes that all older and retired persons have a responsibility to strive to create a society that incorporates these goals and rights and that retirement provides them with opportunities to pursue new and expanded activities with their unions, civic organizations and their communities.

The following ratings are based on the votes the organization considered most important; the numbers reflect the percentage of time the representative voted the organization's preferred position.

Source: ARA website 03n-ARA on Dec 31, 2003

Other candidates on Social Security: John Edwards on other issues:
GOP: Sen.John McCain
GOP V.P.: Gov.Sarah Palin
Democrat: Sen.Barack Obama
Dem.V.P.: Sen.Joe Biden

Third Parties:
Constitution: Chuck Baldwin
Libertarian: Rep.Bob Barr
Constitution: Amb.Alan Keyes
Liberation: Gloria La Riva
Green: Rep.Cynthia McKinney
Socialist: Brian Moore
Independent: Ralph Nader
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Page last updated: Feb 08, 2010