“We can’t afford to weaken Social Security, we should be strengthening Social Security,” Obama said. “And not only do we need to strengthen its long term health, it’s time we finally made Social Security more generous and increased its benefits so today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they have earned.”
The announcement marks an about-face from the President’s previous acts of office. In 2012, Social Security programs experienced substantial cuts in funding as part of the “Grand Bargain” with Congress to reduce the national debt.
Some 64.2 million Americans were receiving Social Security benefits as of 2014. The President acknowledged an aging population in a difficult economic climate that may require more future assistance than ever.
To fund the increases, Obama proposed, “We can start paying for it by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more. They can afford it. I can afford it.”
Current Social Security taxes only collect from the first $118,500 of annual income. By suggesting supplemental taxation of the rich, Obama echoes Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, whose campaign platform has thus far been more liberal than Obama’s tenure in office with a Republican Congress has allowed him to be.
“I applaud President Obama for making it clear that it is time to expand Social Security benefits,” Sanders said from his campaign trail in California.
Democratic presidential frontrunner candidate Hillary Clinton has also expressed support for targeted increases in Social Security measures.
But while the President’s speech may bolster liberal morale, White House officials stress that the speech is part of an ongoing discussion, not a definitive move towards legislative action.
“There are a number of steps we should take to make sure everyone who works hard has a fair shot at opportunity and security in today’s economy,” officials told Politico. “Continuing the discussion about strengthening Social Security will be an important part of that effort.”