ThinkProgress filed this report from Carroll, Iowa.
Constituents waved signs and gave boisterous applause when one Iowan after another stood up and urged Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to strengthen Social Security rather than cut the retirement program at a town hall in Carroll, Iowa on Monday.
One middle-aged woman, Rosie Partridge, pointedly asked Grassley, “Why can’t we raise the wage cap in order to ensure that Social Security can continue on as it is without talking about cutting it?” (The current payroll tax does not tax income above $106,800.) Partridge, a small business owner, went on to tell her senator that despite the fact her business “would pay more” in payroll taxes, “you know what? No complaints. We want to have Social Security!” Grassley, who helped lead his party’s efforts to privatize Social Security in 2005, backed down, saying, “You have to have everything on the table”:
PARTRIDGE: My husband and I have a business in Carroll County. […] My question is, why can’t we raise the wage cap in order to ensure that Social Security can continue on as it is without talking about cutting it? [Applause] And if we, as a business, we would have some people that would be giving more to that, actually a family member that’s part ownership of the business. And the business would pay more, too. And you know what? No complaints. We want to have Social Security! [Applause]
GRASSLEY: I think when it comes to Social Security, if anybody’s going to bargain in good faith, you have to have everything on the table. But if your point of view is to solve the Social Security problem just by taking the cap off, that isn’t going to solve it, as the trustees looked at it and said five years.
In fact, lifting the payroll tax cap would keep Social Security solvent for the next 75 years. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced he would introduce legislation to this effect, because doing so would keep Social Security fully-funded without having to cut benefits.
Though it may be tempting to hear “everything [is] on the table” and believe that Grassley is open to Partridge’s proposal, this is a phrase he commonly employs in tough policy fights. Optimists may believe that Grassley genuinely considers all options; pessimists will point to the health care reform debate when he made similar musings, only to string Senate Democrats along for months before criticizing the bill for supposedly allowing government to “pull the plug on grandma.”
Later in the town hall, another older woman chastised Grassley and his fellow Republicans for including Social Security in the recent debt ceiling standoff. “We have not caused the debt,” the woman said. “You owe Social Security recipients just like you owe China and anybody else that has treasury bonds.”