WASHINGTON — Nothing infuriates Senate Democrats’ budget chief Bernie Sanders quite like calls for cutting Social Security.
So the Vermont senator was livid when TPM asked him at a Capitol news conference about a proposal floated Tuesday in New Hampshire by Republican presidential hopeful and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to incrementally raise the Social Security retirement age to 69 and reduce benefits for upper earners.
“You take a deep breath and try to wonder what world these people live in,” said Sanders, who is also considering a run for president. “What Governor Christie is saying is just the continuation of the war being waged by the Republican Party against the elderly, against the children, against the sick and against the poor, in order to benefit millionaires and billionaires. It is an outrage.”
Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the House’s top Budget Committee Democrat who was at the joint news conference, agreed. “Let me just associate myself with Senator Sanders’ remarks,” he said, adding that he has proposed measures in the House to protect Social Security from any cuts.
The swift and fierce denunciations illustrate the political perils of proposing cuts to the cherished retirement benefits program, which is projected to be able to pay full benefits until 2033. Democrats may seek to use the issue as a weapon in the 2016 election.
Defending his proposal, Christie told Yahoo News that it’s “not a tough sell to current seniors or people about to enter the system because this won’t affect them. We’re going to phase this in over a good period of time.” He added, “These programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security — are on the road to ruin if we don’t make changes.”
Sanders said he intends to force a vote to call for avoiding any cuts to Social Security, and “let’s see how many Republicans are prepared to go with Christie.”
He said the next president should “absolutely” support expanding Social Security benefits, as all but two Senate Democrats voted to do last month.
“What Governor Christie is saying is that you should work until you’re 67, 68 years of age because we can’t afford to provide decent retirement benefits to you,” he said. “Anyone who tells you Social Security is going broke is not telling the truth.”