At Hearing, Warren Presses Republican Nominee to Social Security Advisory Board Over His Record Advocating for Steep Cuts to Benefits
Warren: “(R)aising the payroll tax income cap, so that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, would extend Social Security solvency by 75 years.” Warren: “Democrats want to expand Social Security benefits. And we want to extend the program's solvency so that Americans everywhere can retire with dignity. Those are the solutions that we should be working toward.”
Washington, D.C. —Today, at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned Andrew G. Biggs, Republican nominee to the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB), over his highly concerning record advocating for cuts to the Social Security program.
Senator Warren pressed Mr. Biggs on his opposition to raising the payroll tax cap for the wealthy – which allows tech giants like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to pay just as much to fund the program as dentists and family doctors – and his plan to cut benefits for middle income workers that have spent their lives earning their benefits.
Transcript: Hearing on Nominations to the Social Security Advisory Board
U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Wednesday, January 31, 2024
Senator Warren: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
So all of my colleagues here today agree that Social Security has a solvency problem, which threatens the retirement security of 70 million seniors who spent their entire lives paying into this program.
That leaves us with two options. One, we can shore-up the program's finances by making the wealthy pay their fair share, or two, we can cut benefits for millions of hardworking Americans who rely on Social Security to make ends meet.
Now, today, the payroll tax that funds the program does not apply to income above $160,000. That means that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, the richest men in the world, contribute to the Social Security program just as much as your neighborhood dentist. Put it in a different way: While most Americans spend the entire year paying into the program, these men met their obligation within seconds into their work in the new year.
Now, Mr. Biggs, you've been nominated to serve on the Social Security Advisory Board, which provides advice on how to strengthen Social Security. I want to ask you just a series of questions on how you would advise Congress on addressing the program's solvency issues.
First, at a Senate Budget Committee hearing in July, you said that raising taxes on higher income people was, quote, “inconsistent with Social Security's history and philosophy,” and, quote, “unnecessary given the already record high levels of Social Security benefits.”
So I just want to be clear on this, do you still oppose raising the payroll tax cap for higher income earners?
Andrew G. Biggs, Nominee, Social Security Advisory Board: To be clear, the sorts of issues you're raising right now have never come under the purview of the Social Security Advisory Board. There's no–
Senator Warren: I'm asking for your view, and I'm quoting what you've already said.
Andrew G. Biggs: Okay, that’s perfectly fine.
Senator Warren: I just want to be clear: Do you still oppose raising the payroll tax cap for higher income people? It's a pretty simple question.
Andrew G. Biggs: I would prefer not to do it, I could–
Senator Warren: So you oppose it. Okay.
You know, raising the payroll tax income cap, so that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, would extend Social Security solvency by 75 years. But if you take raising revenue from the wealthiest people off the table, then that leaves one option to extend Social Security solvency and that is benefit cuts.
Now, one proposal that Republican policymakers have offered is to raise the retirement age.
Mr. Biggs, you have previously explained that raising the retirement age would cut benefits for American workers across the board. Is that right?
Andrew G. Biggs: That's correct.
Senator Warren: Okay. And yet, you sat before this committee about a decade ago, defending Republican calls to raise the retirement age, claiming that Americans biggest risk on the job was, quote, “carpal tunnel syndrome from their mouse.”
So that's my last question, Mr. Biggs. Your plan to address Social Security solvency, which you've called the, quote, “flat benefit plan,” would, in your words, quote, “mean lower future Social Security benefits for middle and high income earners,” end quote.
So, do you still support cutting benefits for middle income workers?
Andrew G. Biggs: What I have proposed would, in fact, pay lower benefits in the future to middle and high income earners than what is scheduled under current law.
Senator Warren: Okay.
Look, the point of this Social Security Advisory Board is to provide recommendations on strengthening Social Security for America's workers.
I just don't understand why we are being asked to confirm someone whose plan for strengthening Social Security is to gut its protection.
But in all fairness to Mr. Biggs, his views are not extreme outliers. His plan is Republican’s plan.
Republican policymakers have spent years trying to undermine Social Security by pushing to reduce benefits, to raise the retirement age, and to cut payroll taxes that keep the program alive.
As we speak, Republicans in Congress are trying to force through a fiscal commission that would fast track cuts to Social Security and Medicare. And after moving to defund the program in 2020, former President Trump vowed to look at cuts if he were to win a second term.
Democrats want to expand Social Security benefits. And we want to extend the program's solvency so that Americans everywhere can retire with dignity. Those are the solutions that we should be working toward.
And with that, I think I'm the last person to ask questions. This hearing is now adjourned.
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