Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg, the leaders of the Senate Budget Committee, are proposing to set up a commission that they argue is necessary to address tough budgetary issues. In reality though, the proposed commission is likely to force Congress to make destructive cuts in Social Security.
Their plan is to establish a commission with equal representation of Democrats and Republicans that would address “the nation’s unsustainable long-term fiscal imbalance” by recommending sweeping changes to Social Security, Medicare and the tax system. The commission’s recommendations would be expedited through Congress, and members would have to vote on them, up or down, as a package, with only limited debate and no opportunity for amendments.
Those favoring a fast-tracked commission are talking about adding it to must-pass legislation to raise the federal debt ceiling. The federal debt ceiling must be raised by mid-December in order to keep the government running.
Polls show that the American people do not want Social Security benefits to be cut, and, indeed, are willing to contribute more, if that is what is needed to preserve this vital program. However, the commission gives those who oppose Social Security an easy and stealthy way to chop benefits – without the public even knowing what’s happening.
On November 10, eight experts – including PRC Board Chair Nancy Altman, the author of The Battle for Social Security – submitted a statement for the record with the Budget Committee pointing out that, throughout Social Security’s 75-year history, legislation affecting the program has always gone through the normal legislative process, resulting in the most successful, popular and efficient domestic program in existence. The statement’s authors note that, in the past, the normal legislative process has been able to eliminate projected Social Security shortfalls that were more severe and more immediate than those projected today. The eight experts, all of whom were closely involved in the crafting and enactment of the Social Security Amendments of 1983, believe that Conrad and Gregg’s proposal is unnecessary, unwise, and indeed, a dangerous precedent. (For a broader take on the implications of this fast-tracked commission, check out Robert Kuttner’s blog on Huffington Post.)
Social Security is being wrongly blamed for the budget deficit. The fact is that this program is the most fiscally responsible of all federal programs. It is self-financed through dedicated contributions and has enough money to pay benefits for decades to come.
Furthermore, the economic crisis has shown that Social Security provides a lifeline that is more crucial than ever, says Nancy Altman, to “the millions who receive its benefits and the millions more who are insured in the event they, or workers on whom they depend, lose wages as a result of disability, premature death, or old-age.”
Congress should deal with the growing deficit and our nation’s huge economic problems, but it needs to keep its hands off of Social Security. Social Security is part of the solution not the problem.