Add Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) to the list of Republican lawmakers unsatisfied with the party's reluctance to back Social Security cuts.
The longtime Senator, who will retire at the end of her term in 2012, called on both parties to include the program in debt ceiling talks on Tuesday in a speech at the Heritage Foundation. She's releasing her own legislation to spur talks, a bill that would raise the retirement age gradually to 69 and reduce benefits by trillions over the next several decades by pegging the annual cost-of-living- adjustment (COLA) to one percent below inflation every year.
"We could have waited and let things settle after the debt increase vote," she said. "I'm introducing my legislation because I don't think we can wait and I do think it should be part of the overall debate on raising the debt limit."
Hutchison told the audience that the move was necessary, because without changes to the system, recipients would receive a 23% cut to their core benefits in 2036. But an audience member noted to Hutchison that a 1% cut in benefit increases over a similar period of time could produce comparable decreases. Hutchison responded that a key part of her plan was gradually introducing seniors to lower benefits.
"You're right that as you accumulate the cuts it's like anything else over time, it does get to be more," she said. "But if you take it one year at a time, it's a very small lowering of the increase. I don't think at any point would you go into core benefits."
House Republicans avoided Social Security in their budget, which most of the caucus voted for in the Senate as well, and Hutchison isn't the only member of her party annoyed at its exclusion. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced a bill that would means-test benefits while also raising the retirement age. A group of House members led by Pete Sessions (R-TX) recently introduced legislation that would create an optional privatized Social Security program.