Overlapping groups of Democratic senators have launched efforts to prevent the so-called congressional supercommittee from cutting Social Security benefits as a means to reduce the federal budget deficit.
On the one hand, several Senate Democrats have gotten behind legislation to strengthen Social Security by applying the payroll tax that most Americans already pay to those with annual incomes above $250,000.
On the other, Democratic senators are directly warning members of the supercommitee not to touch Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.
The supercommittee, known formally as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, was formed as part of the recent federal budget deal. The bipartisan panel is tasked with identifying ways to cut the federal budget deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The supercommittee is to complete its work by Thanksgiving.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the left-leaning Vermont independent, introduced the bill designed to strengthen the federal Social Security retirement program. The measure is cosponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
“We are here today to send a loud and clear message to this super committee: do not cut Social Security,” Sanders says.
Under the proposed legislation, called the Keeping Our Social Security Promises Act, the wealthiest Americans would pay the same payroll tax already assessed on those with incomes up to $106,800 a year. Social Security officials have calculated that the simple change would keep the retirement program strong for another 75 years.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced a companion bill in the House. He joined Sanders and other senators at a Capitol Hill press conference where they voiced concern that Social Security benefits are in jeopardy from potential proposed cuts from the supercommitee.
Supporters of the bill say the legislation also follows through on a proposal that President Obama made in 2008 when he was running for the White House.
Meanwhile, Sanders, Akaka, Blumenthal and Whitehouse joined Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) in a letter sent to the members of the supercommittee, telling them “hands off” Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“In contrast to profitable corporations and the wealthy, the tens of millions of Americans who rely on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid often have no resources to spare,” the senators write. “Even small cuts to these essential programs would bring widespread suffering to some of our most vulnerable citizens. We believe that is unfair and unnecessary.”
The senators also called for a balanced approach to deficit reduction — one that will ensure that millionaires and billionaires pay a fair share in taming the deficit.
Sanders nottes that Social Security has not contributed one dime to the federal deficit. It has a $2.5 trillion surplus, and it can pay out every nickel owed to every eligible American for at least the next 25 years, according to the Social Security Administration. He cites a recent report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which estimates that Social Security can pay all promised benefits until 2038.
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.