Speaking on the Senate floor on Monday, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren went against pro-austerity conventional wisdom and advocated for the expansion of Social Security benefits, joining a small but vocal group of economic liberals currently pushing the idea.
"Over the past generation, working families have been hacked at, chipped, and hammered. If we want a real middle class — a middle class that continues to serve as the backbone of our country — then we must take the retirement crisis seriously," Warren said. "That is why we should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits — not cutting them."
Warren's position is exactly opposite from that advocated in a recent Op-Ed from the Washington Post's editorial board, which argued against expanding Social Security benefits, calling the move "a massive transfer of income from upper-income Americans to the retired." The Post went on to claim that the money raised by lifting the cap on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax would be better spent on America's young, an either/or proposition that Warren and others reject.
By planting a flag on the need to expand Social Security, Warren may have just added this issue to the pantheon of preoccupations that are driving those who want to see the party embrace a more economically populist posture going forward. Liberal bloggerssuch as Atrios and liberal groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, have been pushing for a Social Security expansion, arguing that Democratic priorities should be centered on the idea that declining pensions and wages (and savings) are undermining retirement security, and that the party should above all stand against undermining the social insurance system.
The focus on Warren’s championing of these issues has led to a lot of chatter to the effect that she will run in 2016 and mount a serious challenge to Hillary Clinton in the process. But she has adamantly denied any plans to run, and at any rate, the real story here may go beyond the question of whatever presidential ambitious Warren harbors, if any. Her popularity with the Democratic grass roots suggests that they will want to see these issues addressed no matter who enters the 2016 Democratic field. Indeed, as Ned Resnikoff notes, liberal groups are pushing her issues not necessarily out of a desire to see her run, but because they want to “demonstrate the popularity of her anti-austerity, pro-financial reform message in the hopes that other Democratic politicians will begin to emulate it.”