Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley appears to be channeling his inner Elizabeth Warren with his new Social Security plan released Friday.
Sen. Warren (D-MA), a progressive darling, has been making waves since 2013 for suggesting that Social Security benefits should be expanded, and pushing back on the popular notion that they should be cut or even eliminated. Now, the idea is gaining traction with Democratic presidential candidates — most recently O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland.
If you need an overview of how Social Security works, what problems it’s facing, and how presidential candidates could alter the program, ThinkProgress’ video team has a helpful explanation here:
The basic problem, though, is this: Social security trustees say the program won’t be able to pay full benefits by 2034. Maintaining its reserves, therefore, either means raising taxes or cutting benefits. Conservatives — including many Republican presidential candidates — have proposed scaling back the program or privatizing it, while some progressives have called for dramatically expanding it.
O’Malley falls into the latter camp. In his new plan, O’Malley lays out seven ways he would “expand and protect” Social Security benefits for both current and future retirees.
Among them are “immediate” boosts to monthly benefits for current retirees; increasing benefits for minimum-wage and lower- and middle-income workers; and increasing the minimum benefits people can have. Those proposal come on the heels of a recent AARP survey, which saw 61 percent of adults saying the average monthly payment of $1,332 is too low.
His plan also pledges to reject a number of conservative ideas proposed for Social Security, including efforts to privatize the program and raise the retirement age. In addition, the plan supports requiring businesses with more than 10 employees to make it possible for those employees to make automatic contributions to their own retirement funds.
To pay for these expansions, O’Malley’s plan advocates lifting the cap on the payroll tax for workers earning more than $250,000, among other things. That proposal is essentially one that makes rich people pay more taxes — right now, individual income over $117,000 per year is not taxed by Social Security. That idea has a good deal of support among progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and has a similarly progressive social security expansion plan.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and enacting comprehensive immigration reform would also help pay for the expansion, O’Malley’s plan argues, because taxes from higher income and documented workers would go into the Social Security fund.
Though most Democrats are for at least keeping current Social Security benefits in place, not everyone is willing to commit to expansions. O’Malley’s proposal to lift the tax cap, for instance, is not a widely popular position among candidates for office. His pledge to support the caregiver credit — which mostly impacts women — is not often discussed, but generally supported by women’s groups.
Someone else who has not been willing to commit to expansions is Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, and as Politico notes, O’Malley’s plan could increase the pressure on her to do so. Elizabeth Warren, for her part, has indirectly suggested that Clinton would need to embrace expansions on the program to gain her support.