WASHINGTON — After months of sniping back and forth from a distance over Social Security, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders finally had it out in person.
In Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate, the first since Sanders and Biden became the sole serious candidates for the nomination, Sanders flayed Biden for being open to cutting the program while Biden hammered him for a misleading ad on the topic.
“America, go to the website right now, go to the YouTube right now,” Sanders said, arguing that “time after time” Biden supported Social Security cuts.
Biden denied this, but Sanders pointed to Biden’s past support for the Balanced Budget Amendment, which would have frozen spending on the program and lowered in-person payouts, as well as his involvement in the 2010 bipartisan Simpson-Bowles negotiations to curtail deficit spending. That plan included potential cuts to Social Security, including an increase in the retirement age, a GOP part of the plan.Biden has regularly called for spending freezes to Social Security over his career, something he now tries to avoid mentioning as he argues for expanding the entitlement program. And while at certain points in his career he pushed for increases to Social Security payments, at others he advocated for freezes or cuts to the program in order to protect its solvency. By 2035, the Social Security Administration projects that the government will be taking in only three-quarters of what it pays out on the program.
Sanders pushed him on that point.
“You were not a fan of Bowles-Simpson?” Sanders asked.
“I was not a fan of Bowles-Simpson,” Biden responded — even though as vice president he’d had a role in helping to negotiate the plan before it fell apart.
“You were not a fan of the Balanced Budget Amendment, which called for cuts in Social Security? C'mon, Joe, you were. You’re an honest guy. Why don’t you tell the truth here? We all make mistakes,” Sanders fired back. “You have been on the floor of the Senate time and time again talking about the need to cut Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ programs. Is that true or is that not true?”
“That is not true… what is true is in terms of the negotiations that were taking place, how to deal with the deficit, everything was on the table. I did not support any of those cuts,” Biden said — admitting that the Obama administration had been open in concept to potential Social Security cuts as part of a larger deficit-reduction deal but correctly pointing out it was Republicans, not them, who were advocating for it.
Biden fired back by correctly pointing out that Sanders’ ads attacking him for the issue have taken his remarks out of context to make it sound like he was advocating for those cuts rather than just being willing to consider them in a broader compromise. As Biden points out, the nonpartisan PolitiFact called Sanders’ attack ad “false,” something Sanders wouldn’t admit in the debate.
Cover: Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders gestures as he and former US vice president Joe Biden take part in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)