AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows on Monday said she’d vote to shift more of the financial burden for paying for Social Security to high-level earners while expanding the benefit for those who need it most.
Bellows, who opposes incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in the November election, gathered with supporters on Monday at the State House to highlight how her position on the future of Social Security differs from Collins’. A Collins campaign spokesman said Bellows’ proposals would increase spending while doing little to ensure the long-term solvency of the program.
“I support expanding Social Security benefits in a responsible way to make sure retired Mainers don’t face hunger or lose out on the medicines they need,” said Bellows. “The fiscally responsible way to do that is to make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share into the system.”
Bellows, who trails Collins — a popular incumbent seeking her fourth term — in both the polls and campaign fundraising, said she favors eliminating the payroll tax cap on contributions to Social Security, which has everyone with an income above $113,700 per year paying the same amount.
Bellows also supports pending legislation known as the RAISE Act, which would impose a 2 percent payroll tax on all earnings over $400,000 per year in order to increase Social Security benefits for widows and widowers, divorcees and children of disabled adults.
“Social Security is successful because Americans pay into it and benefit from it, and we should expand on that as much as possible,” said Bellows, who also attacked Collins for voting in favor of a budget bill in 2011 that resulted in cuts in the administration of Social Security, including eliminating thousands of positions and hundreds of field offices.
The Collins campaign responded that in her role as the ranking Republican on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Collins is in the midst of exploring how those cuts will affect administration of the program.
Collins campaign spokesman Lance Dutson said that in January, Collins introduced legislation called the Retirement Security Act of 2014 to encourage small employers to offer retirement plans, spur employees to save more for retirement and ensure that low- and middle-income earners are able to claim tax benefits for retirement savings already in law.
“Shenna’s ideas are short on facts and practical solutions,” said Dutson. “Her confusing scatter-shot approach proposes billions in additional spending and fails to ensure the solvency of America’s Social Security system. The Budget Control Act that she criticizes passed the Senate 74-26 with the support of nearly all Senate Democrats, including Harry Reid, and was signed by President [Barack] Obama. It prevented the United States from defaulting on its debts, which would have imperiled Medicare and Medicaid payments to our seniors and, ironically, Social Security.”
Dutson said the administrative cuts weren’t wholly due to the budget bill. Earlier this year, Collins addressed the issue in a written statement.
“The Social Security Administration has been pushing for years to reduce the face-to-face services it provides through its field offices and to force beneficiaries to interact with the agency online or over the phone,” said Collins. “While I don’t object to providing services this way where it’s appropriate, I am concerned that the [Social Security Administration] has not sought public input, and it is not taking into account the impact on the beneficiaries they are supposed to be serving.”
There are many proposals circulating that seek to improve the Social Security system, and most politicians stay away from any conversation about significantly reducing benefits. However, some congressional Republicans favor privatizing the system, raising the age at which retirees are eligible for monthly benefits, altering the formula for calculating benefit increases to account for inflation, and instituting a “means test” system under which wealthy participants would receive a lower benefit.
Bellows said she opposes privatization of a system that already is working well and opposes raising the retirement age because it would hurt blue-collar workers and others for whom working a few extra years at the end of their careers would be difficult. She also rejected the idea of a means test.
“Means testing undermines the basic principle that everyone pays in and everyone benefits,” said Bellows. “Means testing would transform Social Security from an earned benefit to a handout, and that’s not what this is about.”