Jodey Arrington and Mike Johnson

House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) are seen during a meeting of the House Republican Conference on November 14, 2023.

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

House GOP to Hold Hearing on Social Security 'Death Panel'

"MAGA Mike Johnson and his fellow Republicans desperately want this commission to give bipartisan cover to benefit cuts," said Social Security Works. "Democrats must stand united against it."

The Republican-controlled House Budget Committee is set to convene a hearing Wednesday to examine legislation that would establish a so-called fiscal commission for the U.S. debt, a proposal that critics have called a Trojan horse for Social Security and Medicare cuts.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), a longtime proponent of Social Security cuts, described such a commission as one of his top priorities after winning the gavel last month, and right-wing organizations such as the Koch-connected group FreedomWorks have endorsed the idea.

A fiscal commission of the kind backed by congressional Republicans and some conservative Democrats—including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—would be tasked with analyzing Social Security, Medicare, and other U.S. trust fund programs and developing policy recommendations ostensibly aimed at improving the programs' finances. The policy proposals would then be put on a fast track in both the House and Senate.

Social Security Works and other progressive organizations have stressed that Social Security does not add to the federal debt and warned against the growing push for a fiscal commission.

"That's code for a death panel designed to cut Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors," Social Security Works wrote in a social media post on Monday in response to the impending hearing.

"MAGA Mike Johnson and his fellow Republicans desperately want this commission to give bipartisan cover to benefit cuts," the group added. "Democrats must stand united against it."

The House Budget Committee's Wednesday hearing will feature testimony from Manchin and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who earlier this month teamed up to introduce legislation that would establish a 16-member bipartisan, bicameral fiscal commission comprised of 12 elected officials and four outside experts.

Manchin and Romney have both said they're not running for reelection next year.

Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, called Manchin and Romney "cowards" who are "quitting and heading out of town, but want to set up a closed-door commission to cut Social Security and Medicare on the way out the door."

"The only reason to make changes to Social Security via a closed-door commission is to cut already modest earned benefits."

According to a legislative summary released by Manchin's office, the commission would "produce a report and propose a package of legislative solutions to improve the long-term fiscal condition of the federal government, stabilize the ratio of public debt to GDP within a 15-year period, and improve solvency of federal trust funds over a 75-year period."

"If the commission approves proposed legislative language, it would receive expedited consideration in both chambers," the summary continues. "While 60 votes would be required to invoke cloture prior to final passage in the Senate, only a simple majority would be needed for the motion to proceed, which would be privileged."

Manchin and Romney's bill is one of three pieces of legislation that the House Budget Committee will discuss during Wednesday's hearing. The committee is chaired by Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), a fiscal commission supporter and member of a Republican panel that called for raising the Social Security retirement age earlier this year.

Progressive lawmakers and organizations have argued that instead of cutting benefits, Congress could ensure Social Security is fully funded for the next seven-plus decades and expand benefits by lifting the payroll tax cap that allows the rich to avoid taxes on annual income over roughly $160,000.

"All of the options for eliminating Social Security's projected shortfall, manageable in size and still a decade away, are fully understood," more than 100 advocacy groups wrote in a letter to members of Congress earlier this month. "The only reason to make changes to Social Security via a closed-door commission is to cut already modest earned benefits—something the American people overwhelmingly oppose—while avoiding political accountability.

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