If candidates don’t talk about fixing Social Security, we must make them

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    For years, Social Security has been called the third rail of politics. But with days until the Pennsylvania primary, presidential candidates need to take a stand and talk to voters about their plans to make Social Security financially sound for the long-term, or future retirees are set to lose up to $10,000 per year.

    Americans for the last 80 years have been paying into Social Security and collecting the benefits they’ve earned when they retire. But while the times have changed, the program hasn’t. As a result, the stakes have never been higher for the millions of taxpayers throughout Greater Philadelphia who are currently paying in with the expectation of receiving benefits when they retire. If our leaders fail to act, benefits will be cut by an estimated 25 percent in 2034 according to the latest Social Security trustees’ report.

    Despite that looming date with destiny, when it comes to updating Social Security, politicians just keep kicking the can down the road to avoid contact with the supposed third rail. The last time Social Security was updated, Ronald Reagan was president. Candidates for president and Congress have spent election after election trading insults on this issue, but not actually talking to voters about their plans. The only way to make progress is for our national leaders to make Social Security a priority and put serious proposals on the table. It won’t happen without presidential leadership, and it’s up to everyone who enters a polling booth on April 26 to hold the candidates accountable.

    With so much at stake, the AARP has launched Take A Stand, a campaign that demands on behalf of all voters that presidential candidates lay out their plans to update Social Security for future generations. Our volunteers across Pennsylvania and the early primary and caucus states have been pressing the presidential candidates for details on their plans to update Social Security for the 21st century. If you have been to a presidential candidate event recently, you may have witnessed these volunteers wearing red AARP “Take A Stand” t-shirts and jackets urging candidates to lay out their proposals.

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    Due in large part to our volunteers’ tireless efforts, almost every candidate has laid out a plan. While Donald Trump has said to date that he would “save Social Security” and cut waste, fraud and abuse, the rest of the candidates have put forward specific proposals. Plans by Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz call for raising the retirement age, among other things. Secretary Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders have plans that include increasing the payroll tax cap of $118,500 and expanding benefits.  

    Every proposal out there raises questions. For example, how would America pay for expanded benefits? How would retirees be affected if Congress changed the formula for a cost-of-living increase? What would a higher retirement age mean for workers in labor-intensive jobs? Pennsylvania voters deserve answers.

    Unfortunately, the candidates aren’t talking to voters about their proposals and what they would mean to them and their families. And most of the TV news networks hosting debates didn’t help because it’s better for ratings to let the candidates fight about hand size and who is a bigger enemy of Wall Street.  So it’s up to each of us to force the dialogue to change.

    Without a doubt, Social Security is a complicated and difficult problem to solve. But that’s what leadership is about — being out front on the issues that matter, even if they aren’t popular, because the job we elect them to do requires it.

    Pennsylvania is home to the nation’s second-oldest population, so we have a lot at stake. All of us deserve to know, before we cast our votes on April 26, where the candidates stand and who is ready to lead.

    Bill Johnston-Walsh is AARP’s state director in Pennsylvania. Visit www.2016takeastand.org to learn more about the candidates’ plans.

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