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New Congress's First Act Threatens Social Security Benefits

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


Thank you, Ronni, for your vigilance on issues that
are important to us.

I have to be away from my mac for the day, but will
read the references this evening.

I am grateful to you. I admire your thoughtful blogs.

Do we (seniors) have the right to complain seeing as we decided to vote Republican (61%)in the recent midterm election. Sometimes I think old folks equate conservatism with safety and security and liberals with wanting to "give the store away." I think if that meager increase in our SS benefits we received on Jan. 1, would have come out before the elections, there might have been a different outcome.

It's amazing to me to see all these Florida Seniors out here who vote a straight GOP ticket - in Florida, probably the home of the most retired old folks, you can consistently depend on them to vote against their own welfare!

My guess is it is the same throughout the US.

I don't know about anyone else on this blog, but my life literally depends on my monthly Social Security and the medical benefits it provides!

As Jay Leno used to say:"you get the government you deserve". For myself, I just cannot understand the electorate and with gerry-mandering, it will just get worse. I feel like burying my head in the sand for the next 2 years. In that time, the Republicans should be able to accomplish more destruction to all we hold dear, just as the Bush administration did in 8 years! I have to tune-out to prevent ongoing depression!

I second S C Jones. Thank you, Ronni.

Ronni, nice job putting this "minor" procedural rule by the House Republicans into "major" focus. Max explained it well. The questions about why seniors continue to vote Republican are explained by a photo during the last presidential election: A white-haired older man was holding a poster that read "Keep the government out of Medicare!" That's a perfect example of our so-called "informed" senior voters. Yikes.

This is only the beginning of the damage promised by the Republican party. A wound by a thousand cuts.

They don't dare dismantle S. S. outright, so the goal it to privatize it in stages. This is just the opening salvo.

They should be working on a jobs bill, but the Republican Congress are going to rush through their private wish list - kill Obamacare, privatize everything, dismantle the Dodd-Frank legislation, cut funding for for education, food stamps, unemployment comp., etc. And all of this will be done in increments and the public will not be aware of it until it's too late.

Bob, you got that right! The informed knew this would happen, but our voters are ignorant and too lazy to take their civic responsibilities seriously.

Who said that with age cones wisdom?

Pigs. Is there anything else to say?

They didn't waste any time, did they? And to think it's just the beginning! I agree with Darlene that it will all be done in increments in an effort to enact their entire agenda. Thanks for keeping us posted, Ronni.

I'm expecting the GOP to try anything and everything, just to prove it can. What a sorry way to govern. You'd think they don't have parents and grandparents. Or maybe the parents and grandparents are all 1%ers who don't depend on Social Security.


The hatred Republicans have for social security amazes me. It is especially intense toward the disability program. They really do believe that we (or they) are all "on the dole". I doubt that they'll be able to get away with it, this time, but it's just a reminder that we must be ever vigilant in regard to Republican shenanigans. I ask, what's wrong with those people?

I echo what others have said. What did they expect when they hand over both the House and the Congress to Republicans? Really, WHAT . Thank you, Ronni, for keeping us informed.

Obviously, I am too upset to type correctly...trying to say when voters turn over the House and Senate , really WHAT do they expect?

I'm shocked, shocked to learn that Republicans are gambling with our lives and well-being. Who let those criminals in the house (and Senate) anyway? Oh, yeah. We did. I try hard to avoid even hearing about the bullshit the hard right is shoveling, but thanks to vigilant operators like Ronni, my head is relentlessly pulled out of the sand.

Living in California (and reading TGB) can be a bad influence, lulling one into thinking there's a civil society out there. My State pension feels secure, but without Social Security, it's not enough. I'm pretty sure I will not out-live my own benefits, because Congress is slow and incompetent even in its chicanery. But I feel fear and dread for the coming generations which include my children and grandchildren. Unless these X-ers and millennials start going Republican. Then they should be boiled in their own lattes.

Of course it's true that much of what we are going through was brought on by elder-idiots. Like Bruce and Yellowstone, I find the propensity of elders to vote Republican reprehensible. It's one thing for that fat cat on the golf course to vote his interests, but how is it possible for average and even needy elders to be so blind to who their real enemies are? -Meg

I will never understand how Republicans think--never! Actually, I fear that's the problem. They DON'T think. They just vote however Bill and Rush tell them to, regardless of their own best interests. I am appalled by what 65+ generations have done to their peers by voting in a bunch of right-wing conservatives--truly appalled. The next 2 or more years will be a disaster for anyone who isn't already rich. The rest of us had better be prepared for a very bumpy ride--and stock up on cat food whether or not we have a cat!

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