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Elizabeth Warren Calls Third Way 'Flatly Wrong' In Social Security Fight

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) took aim at the corporate-backed think tank Third Way on Thursday, deepening her feud with the group that attacked her Social Security plan in the Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ op-ed said that Warren was ignoring Social Security's "undebatable solvency crisis."

"It's just flatly wrong," Warren said of Third Way's critique. "We could make modest adjustments and make the system financially stable for a century, and we could make somewhat larger adjustments and make the system pay more for seniors who rely on it ... The conversation for too long has been about whether to cut Social Security benefits a little bit or a lot. And that is flatly the wrong debate to have in mind."

Warren made her comments in an interview with HuffPost as members of Congress on Third Way's board faced questions about their support of the group's attack. "The Social Security system is not adding to the debt at all," she said. "More importantly, if we made no changes at all, Social Security would pay out at its current level for about 20 years, at which point it would drop by about 25 percent and pay out forever into the future."

Warren responded to Third Way earlier this week by challenging Wall Street banks to be transparent about donations they have made to think tanks.

The Massachusetts Democrat said that Wall Street's push to cut Social Security is part of a broader agenda. "It's part of the larger issue about a rigged playing field. They don't wanna pay more, they don't wanna pay a fair share. I believe everybody should pay a fair share," she said. "That's how we make sure people can retire with dignity. That's not what Wall Street wants to do."

Third Way's spokesman responded by saying that under Warren's plan, Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase's CEO, would be entitled to a higher Social Security payout.

"Oh please. I'm out there working for Jamie Dimon the same way Dick Cheney is out there trying to save the environment," Warren said.

"I believe that we need to be talking about how we can expand Social Security benefits," she continued. "We need to keep in mind that two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security to put groceries on the table and for 14 million seniors, Social Security is all that stands between them and poverty."

Jim Kessler, one of the co-authors of the WSJ op-ed and a senior official at Third Way, said that Warren's plan was an unwise use of limited resources.

"The plan that Senator Warren supports would raise benefits for every single retiree whether they contributed more money into the Trust Fund or not. With the coming retirement of the baby boomers, is that really how we want to spend limited federal dollars? Over the next two decades, the number of people over the age of 65 will increase by 80% while the number of working age people who fund them will increase by just 8%," Kessler said in an email. "Meanwhile, if you look at the senior population today, 3 million senior citizen households -- one of every nine senior households -- earned more than $100,000 in income, according to the Census Bureau. Why are we raising their benefits? It would be one thing if we had a lot of taxpayer dollars to spare and could do this, plus cover Medicare, and invest in schools, research, infrastructure, and the like. But it hasn’t worked that way in the past and it’s hard to imagine it working that way in the future. It may be popular to give every senior citizen a benefit hike, but it will come at the expensive of other spending. That’s a certainty."

Warren's plan, meanwhile, would raise Social Security taxes on those making more than the current cap of roughly $113,000, and so while such seniors would receive more, they would pay more as well.

The story has been updated with comment from Jim Kessler, a co-author of the Wall Street Journal op-ed.

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