(CNSNews.com) - "We have a retirement crisis in America," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Wednesday night.
"This is no time -- this is the last time -- to be talking about cutting Social Security. This is the moment when we talk about expanding Social Security."
Warren said Social Security is all that stands between 14 million Americans and poverty, and she called for "modest adjustments," such as taxing the wealthy more, and bringing more people into the system, an apparent reference to immigration reform.
Warren increasingly has been mentioned as a presidential contender. Promising to expand Social Security would appeal to the growing number of government-dependent Americans, and it would allow Warren to tout Democrats' "values." In fact, Warren did exactly that on Wednesday night:
"I think this is--this is our moment," Warren said, speaking of Democrats. "I think we have come to understand that, you know, America changes much of the time. It's in increments. It is in small pieces. But we truly have come to the crossroads now. And there are two very different visions of how we build a future.
"The Republicans have made theirs clear. You know, you protect those at the very top. You make sure they've got the maximum number of loopholes and subsidies. And, you know, everyone else, so be it. In other words, their vision is, 'I got mine, the rest of you are on your own.'
"Our vision is different. It says that we really do make these investments together. And when we make these investments together, we build a strong future. Not just for some of us, but for all of us. The pieces are tied together. ...It's about fighting for education, our kids who are being crushed by student loan debt. It is about fighting for the minimum wage. It is about fighting for dignity when people retire. It is about fighting for a world that we build together because we believe that when we do that, we all got a better chance."
Calling for an expansion of Social Security puts Warren to the left of President Obama, who caused a stir when, in his 2014 budget, he proposed changing the way cost-of-living adjustments are made to Social Security. By using a formula called "chained CPI" (a slower rate of inflation), those cost-of-living increases would be lower.
Many Democrats, including Warren, strongly object:
"We need to have a different conversation. We need to have a sensible economic conversation about how to do it. It is not that hard," she told Maddow.
"But what we also need to do is remember, this is partly about math. But it's partly about our values. This is about what kind of a people we are, what kind of a country we are trying to build.
"I believe fundamentally, we are a people who believe that anyone should be able to retire with dignity. And that's what Social Security is about. People who work all their lives and pay into it should have a minimum level that they don't fall beneath. That's good economics. But the point is, it is who we are. It is the kind of country we are building."
Warren says America's middle-class "has been hammered" for a generation, as inflation-adjusted wages have gone down and expenses such as housing, health care, and college tuition have gone way up.
Although families cut back as well as they could, they still couldn't make it, even with two parents working. "So they stopped saving. They went into debt. And now, as they're starting to hit their retirement years, what we're seeing are seniors who are really in a financial squeeze. They have more debt. They don't have savings. They owe money on their homes."
Warren called for "modest adjustments" to Social Security, including raising the amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax. High earners would pay more, in other words.
"Another is how you bring more people into the system so there are more payers into Social Security," Warren said -- an apparent reference to the 11 million illegal aliens in this country.
"Another one is how you change some of the questions where parts of it are bleeding out that shouldn't. There are a lot of different dials you could turn on getting Social Security leveled back out just a little. That's really all it takes."
Warren said the conversation should not begin with cutting benefits. "And I just think it is fundamentally wrong."