Old Fashioned Slang, Words and Phrases

Will Congress Raise the Debt Ceiling before Social Security Payments are Affected?

EDITORIAL NOTE: Today's post is so U.S.-centric that non-American readers in other countries should feel free to take the day off.

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Congress has done no governing since their last election in 2014 – none – but as soon as they are moved by outside forces to finally act, they try to decrease what they call “entitlements,” Social Security and Medicare.

Before I go any further let us be clear about one thing: the word entitlement relates to the idea of a person being inherently deserving of special privilege or treatment. And that has no relationship to Social Security and Medicare.

Elders paid for these benefits throughout the decades of our working years, and we continue to pay for our portion of Medicare with Part B, Part C and/or Part D premiums, with co-pays and with deductibles.

When politicians (and others) refer to these programs as “entitlements,” it is to suggest that old people are being handed freebies and that belief allows them to feel “entitled” to take them away.

Don't ever let anyone get away with labeling Social Security, Medicare (not to mention Medicaid and some other federal programs) entitlements. They are earned benefits.


The reason the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening to cut Social Security and Medicare right now is that the debt ceiling is approaching, the date on which the federal government's ability to borrow expires.

McConnell apparently figures cuts to these programs are easy pickings when the date of default by the federal government looms. That will happen, according to government and other sources sometime between November 1 and about November 10.

I'm sure you recall that we have been here before when Republicans in Congress refused to reauthorize borrowing and the government shut down for 16 days in October of 2013.

This time, according to CNN, in exchange for delivering the votes necessary to keep the federal government in business, McConnell wants an agreement to reduce future cost-of-living-adjustments (COLA) to Social Security and new restrictions on Medicare.

As the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) reported,

”You’ll also note there is no talk of reversing trillions of dollars in tax breaks and loopholes for large corporations shipping jobs overseas. No talk of the billions more in tax breaks given to the ultra-wealthy.

“Instead, Republican leaders want to cut the whopping $1,291 average monthly Social Security retirement benefit. A benefit Americans have paid for throughout their working lives.”

According to Roll Call, last Thursday Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew told Congress in a letter that the date of default will arrive a bit earlier than previously thought. On 3 November,

“...we expect Treasury would be left with less than $30 billion to meet all of the nation’s commitments — an amount far short of net expenditures on certain days, which can be as high as $60 billion,” Lew wrote.”

Social Security benefits alone for November are about $42 billion. I won't get into the weeds about it but this almost veiled threat that Social Security (and other) payments might not be made in November isn't exactly fair.

They were paid in the 2013 shutdown and there are other means by which those payments can be made.

And anyway, according to Simon Maloy, a smart guy who writes at Salon, McConnell has no leverage to hold up a debt ceiling extension vote for what Maloy calls “pie-in -the-sky agenda items.”

"This is the second-worst bluff I’ve ever seen..." he writes. "Is

McConnell really going to try and force a debt limit showdown when the party is hopelessly fractured and the outgoing Speaker is more interested in clearing the decks for his replacement?”

Maloy thinks McConnell is taking on this exercise in futility as a

“...token demonstration to his own restive caucus members that he’s at least trying to put up a fight. At the end of the day, it’s in both Boehner’s and McConnell’s interests to raise the debt ceiling, and the easiest path – really the only path – for them is to pull in Democratic votes to sidestep the hardliners within their own ranks.

“That’s how past debt limit fights have ended, and that’s how this one is going to end.”

I tell you all this because over the next week or two, there will be a lot of speculating about Social Security benefit payments and other dire consequences that is unlikely to amount to much.


And Mitch McConnell pursues cuts to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for raising the debt limit?

Here's another potential safeguard: Last Friday, the House Rules Committee said it will take up a new bill, the Default Protection Act, and bring it to a vote by Wednesday. It

”...would allow the federal government to keep borrowing above the statutory debt limit for the sole purpose of paying principal and interest on debt held by the public or the Social Security Trust Fund,” reports the Washington Post.

“In other words: If Congress fails to raise the debt limit, holders of Treasury bonds would still be paid and Social Security recipients would still get their checks. That, advocates say, could help allay Wall Street anxiety as lawmakers approach the brink of default.”

This is a wonkier than usual TGB post but I've done it because more than one-third of Social Security recipients rely ONLY on Social Security for their retirement income. Many millions more rely on it for more than half their incomes.

If the reassurances I've related above come to nought in the next week or so, I'll be back here exhorting you to call your Congressional representatives.


Wonky or not, it is good news to see in plainspeak that there or some possible safeguards in place.

Thank you Ronni, and I will share this post with friends who are a bit worried regarding the coming shutdown noise.

Normally, Ronnie, I would say you are preaching to the choir. But unfortunately, some of us in the choir haven't got the message and will still vote Republican this year and next. There are, along with our non-senior friends, enough of us to "Throw the rascals out." The differences between what each party believes in has never been as clear as is now. If the Republican party won't come to their senses and start doing the right thing, than it is up to us to wipe away the fog of animosity and vote for people with a little compassion.

I am thoroughly disgusted by the current crop of Republicans in the house and running for office. Their obstructionist stand on issues is hurting this country as is their narrow take on how we define being an American. White, old rich men are the only class of people they seem to care about. I don't know how they can talk about cutting Social Security and Medicare and still claim they to be more "Christian" than Democrats.

You'd think Republicans would lose zillions of voters by attacking Social Security. I can understand why rich people support Republicans, but I can't understand why ordinary people, people who have to depend on their Social Security would.

Donald Trump campaigns on making America great again. Well, this country was great when the tax rates were twice what they are now for the wealthy, and we had good strong unions expanding the middle class.

This all gives me such agita that I can hardly speak or think without resorting to a stream of 4 letter words! To threaten the older generation with loss of their EARNED benefits is beyond deplorable but the real truth is just how abysmally both parties have handled OUR money. We are the providers after all--where would they be without TAXES?? The taxes the population pays.
Frankly speaking most housewives with a budget and children could manage far, far better than any of these so-called 'public servants'.
Ronni--thank you for bringing this sore subject up--we need to hear it again and again.
Yes, I do thank you even though I am now boiling mad!
Sort of wondering IF I will live through the elections.

Recreating the debt ceiling bubble over and over gives the Republicans a game to play so they can then "'solve" it and say they did something. Afterwards, they gleefully mark their calendars for the next round.

I hope that it is all right with you that I have posted this blog item on my Facebook page.
Goodness knows it needs to be shared around as much as possible.

What all of the above said & then some! I often wonder at the arrogance & stupidity of those in office. Don't any of them have family members who collect SS or are on Medicare & the most stupid of all Medicare Part D!?! Surely some must have aunts, uncles, cousins, someone who isn't wealthy, but comfortable because of what they earned. I'm furious with all of those old, white men who think they know what they are about. Dumb, dumb & dumber. As someone pointed out, a few women & a couple of school kids could create a better budget! I'm also furious & intend to write, write & write again.............email of course & maybe phone calls as well. Dee

Not a problem at all, Gardengoddess.

I wouldn't want to see what happens to the Sen. or Rep. responsible for SS benefits not being paid one month. It wouldn't be pretty!

Bless the wonkiness you can get into when needed and explain so clearly!

This morning the LA Times online leads with Secretary Lew's warning of a "terrible accident" of default if the limit is not raised before Nov. 3. In light of our $4 trillion national budget, it is absurd that Congress fights over raising the debt limit by $60 billion or even $30 billion.

I am very happy to have the additional references, and the succinct definition of an entitlement vs.our earned benefit. Thank you!

As far as I'm concerned, my EARNED BENEFITS are the result of a CONTRACT I made with the US government back when I got my first job. I've done my part. The govt. jolly well better keep its end of the deal. The terms are non-negotiable. I suspect I'm not the only voter who feels this way.

Such an important post--no more wonky than it needs to be--and quite thoughtful comments.

If the GOP is so concerned about "entitlements", what is it doing about farm subsidies to extremely wealthy individuals? They get large amounts of money not to grow certain crops. There's a program which may have been well-intentioned but has become an absurd give-away to many.

I so agree with the importance of this post and the comments. I will never understand how ordinary middle class Americans can possibly believe that the ultra-wealthy and big corporations are on their side. The "ultras" want us to think that we'd be rich like them if only all those "undeserving others" weren't stealing our money through "entitlements". In the world of white male privilege, the playing field is already level, and everyone has exactly the same opportunity to succeed (and save for retirement) if only they would work hard enough, long enough!

Certainly a few of our mostly well-heeled white male senators and representatives, in particular the obstructionist Repubs, must have parents or other family members who depend on Social Security for at least part of their retirement income. Don't these politicians get it that, without SS, support for older relatives might well be coming out of their own pockets? Or, would they allow their relatives to beg on the streets? I honestly think some would--for them, cutting benefits to people who need them is a matter of "principle". I worked for 57 years, mostly full-time, and these guys want to cut my SS benefit!! I don't think so.

Language is so important. That's a very crucial move for us to use "earned benefits" rather than "entitlements." That's worth an email to every representative we have.


Hi Ronnie, I love how you've broken this issue out. It's always disappointing when government officials play with everything from Medicare to End of Life Care as a means of political posturing. That millions of seniors might lose critical coverage when they have paid for them over decades of hard work is unbelievable. The more people like you push to bring this attention to light, the better the chance that some of those in Washington might hear the cry.

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