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Home > Secure Our Future 2008 > John Edwards
John Edwards
Former senator from North Carolina

"I oppose diverting payroll taxes to private accounts..."

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The New Hampshire Project from the Buckeye State Blog captured this video of Edwards at a town hall meeting discussing Social Security:

The New Hampshire Project: Do you have any thoughts on moving the cap on Social Security which would prevent it from having to be privatized?

Edwards: She's saying do I have any thoughts on removing the cap on payroll taxes. I don't know if all of you know this, but basically there is an income cap. And above that cap, $96,000-97,000, if you earn many millions of dollars a year, then above that income cap you don't pay Social Security tax. So what she is asking is if you lift the cap you generate more revenue and help secure Social Security.

I haven't proposed it but I think it makes a lot of sense. The question I have is whether you should just lift the cap or whether you should create some bubble above the cap. For example, for the first $97,000 you are already paying taxes, and then above that to the first $150,000 or $170,000 you don't pay taxes, and then anything above that you do. That's the question I have. Because there are a lot of people earning $100,000-$150,000 where both couples work and send their kids to college and so forth, and they still have trouble paying their bills. We don't want to make taxes higher on them if we can help it. But the people who are earning millions of dollars a year, they ought to be paying payroll taxes.

So the bottom line for me is: I think yes, doing something about the cap makes a great deal of sense. The only question I have is whether we should it is lifted entirely, which may be the thing to do, or if we should make some bubble above the present existing cap and then lift it above that line.

Statements on Reform

  • "We have a few decades to deal with Social Security...[T]here are a number of tools available to us, but I think about this in a very personal way. I mean, I've watched my own father, who worked in a mill all his life, and what happened when he was ready to retire and become eligible for Social Security. So things like raising the retirement age, taking away benefits from people like my father who have worked all their lives and are entitled to that -- in my judgment, we've made them that promise -- are not acceptable...

    "I think there are alternative things we could do. There is now a cap on the income that's available for taxing for purposes of Social Security, and I think we could raise that cap to generate a larger stream of revenue. We might need, though, to create a bubble above it, because the cap is eighty-some-odd thousand dollars right now, and basically if you just lifted cap, you would hit a lot of people who are very much in the middle class. So what you could do is create a bubble above that and then start lifting the cap, so that you get revenue. For example, you could go from eighty-five or ninety thousand up to two hundred thousand, no additional tax, and then above two hundred thousand you're taxed on your income.

    "So those are options, and I think the bottom line on Social Security is it's so politically radioactive, and it's very hard to get anything done, that what I would do as president is I would implement the things I said about Medicare, which I think the president with the acquiescence of Congress could do immediately. Then I would bring together the best people on both sides of the aisle to try to put together something that could be done with Republicans and independents and Democrats to deal with the Social Security problem."
    - Conversation With John Edwards, WMUR March 9, 2007
  • "I oppose diverting payroll taxes to private accounts but support offering matching accounts to workers on top of Social Security. I oppose raising the retirement age or cutting COLAs."
    - Presidential National Political Awareness Test, March 3, 2004
    Credit: On the Issues
  • "Privatizing a portion of Social Security would cost the Social Security Trust Fund more than $1 trillion, making it even harder for us to meet our responsibilities to our seniors. This kind of step would also erode the most basic guarantee of Social Security, exposing millions of Americans to an impoverished retirement.

    "But I do support efforts to increase retirement savings outside of Social Security. I've proposed matching $1 in private savings with up to a $1 refundable tax credit, up to a limit of $1,000 per couple, for Americans with low and moderate incomes... "
    - Associated Press, February 25, 2004
  • Brian Williams: Senator Edwards, can the stock market be a component of the Social Security retirement system?
    Edwards: No, I don't believe it can.
    - Debate at Pace University, September 25, 2003


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