The Social Security skirmish between former Vice President Joe Biden and his 2020 Democratic presidential rival Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders heated up this week after Sanders issued a response video to Biden’s claims that he has a history of supporting the popular program.
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In a tweet, Sanders said he has fought for the program for decades, while Biden fought for cuts.
The video shows a 1995 speech that Biden gave on the Senate floor where he appeared to brag about the fact that he called for freezing spending on every federal program — including Social Security — many times.
“When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid,” Biden said at the time. “I meant veterans benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time.”
On Wednesday, during an interview on MSNBC, Biden said those statements – which have been continually referred to by the Sanders campaign – were taken out of context.
"My support for Social Security has been solid my entire career," Biden said during the interview. "I did join with a lot of other Democrats to make sure we fix Social Security."
Biden took to Twitter on Tuesday to defend his record on Social Security from recent attacks launched by his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying he has been “fighting to protect – and expand – Social Security” for his whole career and “any suggestion otherwise is just flat-out wrong.” His team also called the attacks “dishonest.”
Biden claims he and former President Barack Obama fought back against the privatization of the program and that he defended against former Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s attempts to cut the program in 2012.
But Sanders may have a point about Biden's past history regarding Social Security.
As noted by The Intercept, Biden worked with Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley to call for a freeze on federal spending during the Reagan administration. He called for cuts in 1988. Again in 2007, he said he would consider looking at eligibility for Social Security and Medicare. Even as recently as 2018 he voiced support for going after entitlement programs.
Meanwhile, fellow Democratic presidential candidate Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also got in on the action over the weekend, backing Sanders.
“Bernie Sanders and I established the ‘Expand Social Security Caucus’ in the Senate,” Warren told Politico on Sunday outside a candidate forum in Iowa. “As a senator, Joe Biden had a very different position on Social Security, and I think everyone's records on Social Security are important in this election.”
However, when it comes to his 2020 platform, Biden advocates for strengthening and expanding the popular program. The plan aims to institute a minimum benefit for lifelong workers, which would be a benefit of at least 125 percent of the federal poverty level for those who have worked for at least 30 years. It would raise the monthly payment for widows and widowers by about 20 percent.
Biden also wants to eliminate penalties for teachers and other public sector workers.
In order to bolster the program’s solvency, with trust funds expected to be depleted by 2035, Biden’s plan would ask high-earning Americans to pay higher taxes.