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Rep. Jason Smith speaks at a House Republican news conference

Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) speaks at a House Republican news conference on September 28, 2021. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Social Security 'In Grave Danger' If GOP Retakes Congress, Advocates Warn

"Republicans plan to use the debt limit as the hostage to demand these cuts, even though Social Security doesn't add a single penny to the deficit," noted one campaigner.

Jake Johnson

Social Security and Medicare defenders warned Tuesday that the popular government programs will be "in grave danger" if Republicans win control of Congress in the upcoming midterms, pointing to new reporting on GOP plans to use a looming fight over the nation's debt ceiling to pursue benefit cuts.

"It's clear what their intentions are: reaching into the American people's pockets and stealing their hard-earned benefits."

Citing interviews with four House Republicans hoping to serve as chair of the chamber's budget committee, Bloomberg Government reported that "Social Security and Medicare eligibility changes, spending caps, and safety-net work requirements are among the top priorities" for the GOP if it retakes the House in next month's elections.

Reps. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), and Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) signaled that "next year's deadline to raise or suspend the debt ceiling is a point of leverage" to extract concessions from Democrats, including potentially raising the retirement age and reducing Social Security benefits, the outlet noted.

Such a strategy would fit with the House GOP's recently released policy agenda, which opens the door to Social Security and Medicare cuts—something Republican candidates have repeatedly hinted at on the campaign trail despite the programs' popularity.

"Our main focus has got to be on nondiscretionary—it's got to be on entitlements," Carter told Bloomberg Government on Tuesday.

In a statement, Social Security Works president Nancy Altman stressed that "entitlements" is "a term with pejorative underpinnings" that Republicans frequently use "in hopes that voters don't understand what they're saying."

"But it's clear what their intentions are: reaching into the American people's pockets and stealing their hard-earned benefits," said Altman. "Republicans plan to use the debt limit as the hostage to demand these cuts, even though Social Security doesn't add a single penny to the deficit. If Republicans take control of one or both chambers of Congress, our earned benefits are in grave danger."

The debt limit is a completely arbitrary figure that establishes the amount of money the Treasury Department is legally allowed to borrow to cover U.S. financial obligations.

As long as the debt ceiling remains intact, failure to raise it once the Treasury Department reaches its borrowing limit could result in a default and a financial crisis. Treasury is set to hit its current borrowing limit early next year.

In recent years, Republicans have used recurring debt ceiling fights as opportunities to push spending cuts and other austerity measures—and it appears as if they plan to draw from the same playbook once again following the November midterms.

"Republican politicians are dripping with animosity towards our Social Security and Medicare," Altman said Tuesday. "Even with an election less than a month away, they can't stop themselves from talking about their burning desire to cut and end these so-called 'entitlements.'"

In a column last month, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent explained that Democrats have the power to prevent the GOP from weaponizing the debt ceiling to push Social Security cuts and other elements of their right-wing agenda.

Short of eliminating the debt ceiling entirely, as some Democrats have advocated, "they can use the reconciliation process to pass a 2023 budget outline (with only Democrats and no Republicans), which would allow them to raise the debt limit (again without Republican support) to an amount unlikely to be reached for President [Joe] Biden's full term and well beyond," Sargent observed.

"If Democrats don't use their power to act against this threat," Sargent wrote, "it will be a serious dereliction of duty."

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