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Martin O'Malley stakes out positions on Social Security

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley reiterated his call to expand Social Security for millions of Americans, offering new detail about his goal to improve the financial security of retirees.

Working to distinguish himself from frontrunner Hillary Clinton -- who has so far approached the issue more gingerly -- O'Malley said in a policy paper released by his campaign Friday that he would increase benefits and reject calls to raise the retirement age.

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"Governor O'Malley will expand Social Security benefits -- not reduce them or undermine Social Security in any other way," the campaign wrote in the paper.

The former two-term Maryland governor recommended lifting the cap on payroll taxes on income over $250,000, mirroring an idea proposed by candidate Barack Obama in 2008 and, more recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

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Social Security payroll taxes currently are not paid on income over $118,500.

O'Malley would also change Social Security's minimum benefit, tying the payout to 125 percent of the poverty line for those who have worked at least 30 years -- an idea that many hope would reverse the benefit's shrinking impact.

The Democrat is struggling to gain attention in the race for the nomination against the better known Sanders and Clinton. The paper is the latest effort to capture interest through a detailed policy proposal, beating Clinton to an issue of importance to Democratic voters.

The Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration has more than 48 million beneficiaries in its retirement program.

As he has in past papers, including on immigration and Wall Street oversight, O'Malley has demonstrated a willingness to get into the weeds on the issue -- a reflection of the policy-wonk image his campaign hopes to portray.

He advocates for a more generous cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security beneficiaries that is tied to an inflation index that reflects the purchasing habits of older Americans, for instance. He also calls for up to five years of caregiver credits, which allow workers to leave their jobs to care for dependents without being penalized when Social Security calculates earnings.

Many of the ideas have already been embraced by Sanders, who has so far eclipsed O'Malley with the liberal, Warren-wing of the Democratic Party. Both O'Malley and Sanders have staked out positions to the left of Clinton.

Less frequently discussed on the 2016 campaign trail is the more immediate problem of Social Security's other program: Disability insurance. Nearly 11 million people face benefit reductions next year if Congress declines to address a short fall in that fund.

The retirement trust fund, by contrast, has until 2034 before it will not be able to fully meet its obligations.

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