The 114th Congress had not been in session for longer than a couple hours on its first day, Tuesday, when the Republican majority voted a new House procedural rule that makes it easier to cut Social Security benefits.
Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) immediately responded in an open letter:
”It is difficult to believe that there is any purpose to this unprecedented change to House Rules other than to cut benefits for Americans who have worked hard all their lives, paid into Social Security, and rely on their Social Security benefits, including Disability, in order to survive.”
Dylan Scott at Talking Points Memo (TPM) reported:
”...Democratic staffers said that [the rule] would mean 'either new revenues or benefit cuts for current or future beneficiaries.' New revenues are highly unlikely to be approved by the deeply tax-averse Republican-led Congress, leaving benefit cuts as the obvious alternative.”
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) took to Twitter:
Here is what happened.
Recall that there are two Social Security Trust Funds – one for old age benefits and one for disability benefits. Funds from revenue are transferred back and forth between the funds (called “reallocation”) as necessary for the government to pay the bills. In fact, it has been done routinely 11 times since 1968.
Right now, due to demographic changes, the disability fund is strained and will need shoring up from the old age fund as early as 2016.
As Michael Hltzik explains in The Los Angeles Times, that transfer of funds is “especially urgent now” because without it,
”...disability benefits for 11 million beneficiaries would have to be cut 20%. Reallocating the income, however, would keep both the old-age and disability programs solvent until at least 2033, giving Congress plenty of time to assess the programs' needs and work out a long-term fix.”
Except that the Republican procedural rule change has put a frightening monkey wrench in this previously routine process. Dylan Scott of TPM clarifies:
”The House GOP's rule change would still allow for a reallocation from the retirement fund to shore up the disability fund - but only if an accompanying proposal 'improves the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds, per the rule...
“While that language is vague, experts say it would likely mean any reallocation would have to be balanced by new revenues or benefit cuts.”
Kathy Ruffing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) put an even finer point on the new methods of the Republican House:
"By barring the House from approving a 'clean' reallocation in 2016, the rule will strengthen the hand of lawmakers who seek to attach harsh conditions (such as sharp cuts in eligibility or benefit amounts) to such a measure.”
This move is only the first act on the first day of the new Republican House. Many House candidates told us during their campaigns that Social Security, among other social programs, are on their hit list. I can't wait to see what else they have in store for old folks.
As the NCPSSM's Max Richtman noted in his open letter:
“This [procedural rule] sends a clear message to middle-class families about the House majority’s priorities - targeting Social Security for cuts clearly ranks high on their list.”
Congress will not make the next two years easy going for the elders and boomers of the United States.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: On Genealogy