The Sanders-Biden brawl is heating up

If you want to see how seriously the Biden and Sanders campaigns are taking each other, look no further than some of the golden oldies the two of them are digging out of the oppo research files. The AP has a great breakdown of how the two men currently leading in the polls are circling each other. Let’s start with this gem. Can you guess who said this?

As our population ages, it is clear that we will have to make incremental adjustments in Social Security taxes and benefits — as Congress has done in the past.”

That was Senator Bernie Sanders in a 1996 op-ed he published in The Burlington Free Press. But how about this one?

When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security, as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans’ benefits. … And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time and I tried it a fourth time.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, was Joe Biden during a 1995 speech on the Senate floor.

But to hear both sides talking this week, you’d think nothing of the sort ever happened. (Associated Press)

As a congressman in the 1990s, Bernie Sanders expressed an openness to making “adjustments” to the tax and benefit structure of Social Security. He also praised an overhaul of the social safety net program signed into law by President Ronald Reagan that reduced benefits and increased taxes on working families.

Sanders’ presidential campaign and allies have highlighted similar remarks by Joe Biden to attack the former vice president and make the explosive charge that Biden was an outspoken proponent of slashing the program.

With Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses less than a week away, Sanders’ remarks from decades ago are surfacing as a counterpunch to the criticism of Biden, as the two top candidates in the Democratic race escalate a feud over the nation’s most popular entitlement, an issue that has particular reach among older voters.

So what are they saying today? Sanders responded to the attacks from the Biden camp by saying he has “a lengthy record of opposing cuts to the program and has instead supported tax increases or spending reductions to other programs, like military aid.”

When Biden was asked about Social Security at a recent town hall, he told the audience member, “There will be no compromise on Medicare and Social Security, period. That’s a promise.” At a separate event, he said: “What I’d do is make sure that we expand Social Security coverage.”

My, how times have changed, eh? Of course, what Sanders proposes is yet another fiscal impossibility. When Social Security eventually runs out of IOUs to call in, we won’t be able to make up the difference by cutting military spending, even if we entirely eliminated our armed forces. Biden simply avoids talking about the costs and promises to expand benefits.

I’m trying to remember the last time we had a presidential election where Social Security wasn’t an issue. It might have been in the seventies. Democrats constantly accuse Republicans of wanting to cut people’s benefits and the GOP accuses liberals of being unrealistic in their tax and spending plans to stabilize the system. That’s just standard operating practice. But when it comes down to a primary battle between rival Democrats, it’s just a question of who can promise more and more benefits.

If I’m lucky, I won’t live long enough to see the system entirely collapse. But some of you younger people might want to drop a line to these candidates and tell them that the country needs a practical solution, not more pie in the sky promises.