Republicans are seizing a once-every-20-years opportunity to force a crisis in the Social Security disability program and use it as leverage to push through reforms, a long game that they have been quietly laying groundwork for since taking control of the House in 2010.
In less than two years, the Social Social disability insurance program will start being unable to pay its full benefits and House Republicans said this week that they aren't going to simply give it more revenue from the retirement side, as has been done historically. It's the latest episode in a protracted campaign over the disability program -- and it raises the question of what exactly Republicans plan to do now.
The last time this happened was 1994, and liberal analysts say that another simple reallocation between the disability and retirement funds, as has been done 11 times in the past, would keep both funds solvent until 2033. That meant that conservatives had to act now if they wanted to squeeze the crisis for all it's worth. For the last few years, they've been highlighting instances of fraud and other problems with the program, setting the stage for the big move this week.
Democrats are sounding the alarm, warning that Republicans have taken a "hostage" and will leverage it to pursue broad changes to Social Security as a whole. With memories still fresh of their failed effort to privatize Social Security in 2005, conservatives wonks are less sure that the new GOP Congress would have the political will to do that, though they wouldn't necessarily mind if it did.
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