COMMENTARY: It’s time for candidates to debate Social Security

You wouldn’t know it from most of the news coverage. But voters really do want presidential candidates to lay out their plans to keep Social Security financially sound for future generations.

In Delaware, Social Security helps more than 182,000 people pay their bills. It keeps millions in the middle class — and 41,000 above the poverty line. Delaware residents depend on Social Security, and they want it to be there for their children and grandchildren.

They want to know more about the Social Security proposals that have quietly entered the playing field. And televised debates provide a great opportunity to serve that need. Candidates can talk about their views in detail, and really help voters understand how they and their families could be affect by changes to Social Security.

But so far, this opportunity has been wasted. Moderators from the major TV networks have not pressed candidates on the subject. And on those occasions when Social Security has come up, they’ve let candidates dodge the question or speak in meaningless sound bites. We believe it is time to go past clichés and vague generalities and have a Social Security debate that can help our country move forward.

In the coming days, Take A Stand volunteers will begin to deliver petitions to the major networks, urging them to make sure that Social Security gets its fair share of time in the political debates. Our volunteers also will use social media to draw attention to this aim.

Social Security is becoming even more important in Delaware and throughout the country. Employer pensions are vanishing. The cost of health care and other necessities keeps going up. Yet, more people than ever may live into their 80s, 90s and beyond, with limited means to pay the bills. If our leaders don’t act, future retirees could lose up $10,000 a year.

So, the stakes really matter. Proposals that candidates offer for Social Security should be fully debated, and people should understand how these ideas could affect them and their families. All proposals should get careful consideration, with a serious discussion of pros and cons.

For example, some candidates support raising the retirement age, noting that people live years longer than when Social Security was created in the 1930s. But what happens to people with physically demanding jobs who can’t work longer? Some candidates say Social Security benefits should be increased, noting that many retirees struggle with low benefits. But how do we pay for benefit increases, given all the budget realities?

Voters should not be left in the dark about the answers. Americans pay into Social Security throughout their working lives, and they deserve to know — in detail — how every presidential candidate would keep the promise of Social Security for future generations. If someone thinks they’re ready to be president, they should be willing to say what they would do to keep Social Security strong.

While some candidates have been more forthcoming than others, major questions remain about all their proposals, and we urge the networks to press the candidates harder on Social Security.

Having a real plan to update Social Security is a test of presidential leadership in 2016. The news networks should help us find out whether the candidates pass that test.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rashmi Rangan is the AARP state president for Delaware.

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