One group of lawmakers is thinking seriously about America's future, and another group isn’t


 

Co-authored by Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, Founding Co-Directors of Social Security Works and Co-Chairs of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition.

 

This week is a week of tremendous excitement for those who are interested in the Congressional budget process – which is likely to be a relatively small group of folks. Beneath all the eye-glazing numbers, though, are values.  And real people whose lives will be shaped, for better or worse, by the investments made, or not made, in education, medical research, job development, and maintaining Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as critical social institutions.  Budgets, at base, are about values and the vision a nation has about its future.  The various budgets being debated in Congress this week reflect differing values and visions. The implications for the well-being of our nation and its families simply could not be starker.

The proposals put forward by Democrats in Congress reflect the values of the overwhelming majority of Americans, both in their priority on jobs and growth, and their understanding that Social Security never has, and never will, contribute to the federal debt and deficits and therefore should not be part of any discussions about the nation’s budget deficit.   The same cannot be said for the budgets put forward by Republicans in Congress.

Let’s start with the a brief run-down of the proposals put forward by Democrats; The Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget makes an incredibly important statement on Social Security – by excluding it.  Notwithstanding the noteworthiness of the silence, the CPC is simply following federal law, which unambiguously states that Social Security “shall not be counted…for purposes of - (1) the budget of the United States Government as submitted by the President, [or] (2) the congressional budget….” The law reflects the simple fact that Social Security does not, and by law cannot contribute to the nation’s total debt or its annual deficits from which the debt comes.   Social Security cannot, by law, pay benefits unless it has sufficient income to cover the cost.  Surpluses must be invested, and Social Security currently has an accumulated $2.7 trillion, and growing, surplus. 

In addition, the CPC budget recognizes that the immediate crisis facing the nation is unemployment, and spends to put our nation back to full employment.  That is, incidentally, the most important step to take with respect to Social Security, as well.    

The House Democratic budget importantly states that Social Security should be reformed for its own sake, rather than for purposes of deficit reduction, and rejects privatization as a policy option that anyone should support.   Their plan invests $200 billion for job creation and strengthening the middle class, and could potentially create up to 1.2 million more jobs. 

Like the other two, the Senate Democratic budget does not recommend any changes to Social Security, again in recognition that Social Security legislation belongs on a separate table, because it is off-budget and has its own dedicated revenue stream. This budget also prioritizes jobs and makes investments upfront to help stimulate the economy and get middle-class Americans back to work.  Most importantly, Chairman Murray’s budget signals her intention to keep the promises we’ve made to our seniors, families, veterans, and communities.  

These proposals are in sharp contrast to the proposals Republicans have put forth this year. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has once again proposed to create a fast-track process to force unpopular benefit cuts through Congress, and continues to reject revenue proposals of all kinds – leaving benefit cuts as the only option for reform. He embraces the proposal advanced by former Senator Alan Simpson and his erstwhile sidekick, businessman Erskine Bowles.  Their proposal would radically restructure our Social Security and Medicare systems, essentially ending these programs as we know them. In the broader picture, the Ryan Budget would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs through its severe cuts.

Not to be outdone, the Republican Study Committee – the ultra-right-wing of the Republican Party – has a budget, which would propose to balance the federal budget in four years, primarily by simply eliminating aspects of the government that its members disagree with. This staggeringly harmful proposal would implement the chained CPI – a significant and growing benefit cut for both current and future beneficiaries, including seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, women, and others  – and raise the retirement age to 70 for individuals who are 50 or younger today.

Although the American people are divided on many issues, they are united in their support for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as institutions that are critical to the well-being of their parents, their children, grandchildren and their selves.  They rightly reject the chained-CPI, raising the Social Security and Medicare ages sky-high, and efforts to voucherize, privatize or otherwise pull apart these institutions. They understand that Social Security has no place in budget discussions. 

The House of Representatives is often called the People’s House, the Republican majority is not reflecting the will of those they have been elected to serve.  Rather, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and the House and Senate Democratic proposals reflect that will most closely.  We applaud them for their courageous call for a national budget that stimulates jobs, not the pockets of the very rich.  We applaud them for rejecting cuts to Social Security, despite the overwhelming conventional unwise-wisdom of the elites urging them to do just that.  And we especially appreciate the Congressional Progressive Caucus which clearly recognizes Social Security as separate from the general operating fund of the United States.  As policy experts, and more importantly as citizens, we thank the Democrats of the House and Senate who have crafted and supported their budgets, and urge Republicans to listen to those they have been elected to serve.

 

 


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