In it, but not of it. TPM DC

A new battle is brewing over Social Security in 114th Congress. The House passed a rule last week that critics say could hasten a crisis on the disability side of the program in late 2016, allowing Republicans to use the looming threat of benefit cuts as leverage in negotiations. New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has hinted at his hopes for a grand bargain on entitlements, and House Budget Chair Tom Price (R-GA) signaled Monday that he too had big ambitions for Social Security reform.

Social Security, in more ways than one the mother of all U.S. entitlement programs, has been the dragon that conservatives have succeeded in slashing, but never slaying, over its 80-year history. Their opposition has morphed from outright ideological grounds as the program was being debated during the New Deal era to a campaign masked in careful rhetoric once Social Security became virtually untouchable as a political animal.

Republicans know they have a new opportunity with the disability trust fund and a leverage point that comes along once every 20 years, and they're seizing it. Price floated some favorite proposals like means-testing, increasing the eligibility age, and individual accounts (otherwise known as privatization). He described it as the GOP's effort to "normalize the discussion and debate about Social Security."

Democrats have certainly undertaken and signed onto changes to Social Security opposed by its staunchest supporters. But the program has never been perceived by the left as an existential threat the way it has been by many on the right. To understand where conservatives are now, you have to understand how they got there. The following is derived in large part from "The Battle for Social Security," authored by Social Security Works's co-director Nancy Altman, and TPM's own consultations with other experts on the program.

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The House GOP's threatened shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security would not stop President Barack Obama's executive actions to grant temporary deportation relief and work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants. But in an ironic twist, experts say it would hinder two priorities near and dear to Republican hearts: border security and deportations.

"If somebody were writing a play about this and they wanted to put a perverse circumstance in it that gave the president this smirk authority over the Congress, this is what we've done," Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a leading foe of "executive amnesty" in the House, told TPM.

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When House Republicans signaled last week that they would provoke a fight over Social Security in the next two years, progressive stalwarts like Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren decried the action, with Brown alleging the GOP wanted to "set the stage to cut benefits for seniors and disabled Americans.”

But notably silent on the Republican stance, which prevents what has been a routine transfer of revenue between the retirement and disability funds, upping the chances of a crisis for the latter in late 2016, was the Democratic official who might actually be at the table if conservatives succeed in forcing negotiations in the next Congress: President Barack Obama.

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