Committee Republicans Go For The Social Security Jugular

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Following recent reports that President Obama and congressional Democrats are considering some sort of changes to entitlements as part of a broader debt-limit deal, House Republicans have decided to go for the jugular by again pressing for further cuts in order to “strengthen” – or cut – Social Security, a program forecast to stay solvent until at least 2036.

At a Friday hearing called in response to a delayed Government Accountability Office statement on future Social Security benefit payments, Republicans used the opportunity to whack the Social Security pinata once more, highlighting their unease with its financing even though it doesn’t contribute to the deficit at all.“You can’t pay benefits in bonds – Social Security needs cash,” said Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), chairman of the subcommittee on Social Security. “In times of this deficit the treasury needs to borrow…much of it from the Chinese.”

To which ranking member Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) interrupted by presenting a $20 dollar bill, noting that it too, like the treasury bonds that hold up the Social Security program, is held up by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government – one held increasingly at risk if the debt limit isn’t raised.

Though Republicans never quite cited the impending debt crisis between lawmakers and the White House as grounds to cut Social Security benefits per se, they did try and pin the program’s future shortfall in 2036 as another reason to start altering benefits and raising the retirement age now – without any mention of revenue increases.

“Why are we in this debt crisis right now today? We’re in it because we’ve got a $14.3 trillion debt, we don’t have any more money,” said Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND). “I’m not here to say we want to say Social Security [should] fund our deficit, but quite frankly it’s got to be fixed, I mean we’re spending more than we’re taking in.”

In an interesting exchange between committee Republicans and Bacerra, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) further criticized the delayed GAO statement, comparing it to a “Ponzi scheme” and calling on the ranking Democrat to recognize the problem.

“Mr. Schock I realize the problem but I realize it’s not Social Security,” retorted Becerra, in response to continued Republican efforts to paint it as insolvent.

“It seems like all our witnesses realize that Social Security is the problem,” added Chairman Johnson, nodding to the fact that almost all of the witnesses at the hearing had recommended some form of benefit cut or age raise.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stated earlier this week that Social Security benefit cuts are firmly off the table in debt limit negotiations, leaving all eyes turned to Sunday as lawmakers meet with the president at the White House once more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Igor Bobic is the assistant editor of Talking Points Memo, helping oversee the site’s coverage of politics and policy in Washington. While originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Igor feels best at home on the beaches of Southern California. He can be reached at igor@talkingpointsmemo.com.

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