Demonstrators attend a rally in support of Social Security

Demonstrators attend a rally in support of Social Security on February 24, 2023 in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

(Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for MoveOn)

Senior Groups Tell Kevin McCarthy to 'Release His Hostage' and Back Clean Debt Ceiling Hike

"He is endangering the benefits that seniors rely on to survive, just to score political points," said Alex Lawson of Social Security Works.

An alliance of senior advocacy groups, progressive organizations, and labor unions demanded Wednesday that Congress quickly approve legislation to increase the debt limit without any conditions, warning the House GOP's pursuit of steep spending cuts is risking an "economic calamity" and imperiling key benefits.

In a letter shared exclusively with Common Dreams, Social Security Works, MoveOn, Indivisible, and nearly 30 other organizations implored Democratic and Republican congressional leaders "in the strongest possible terms to swiftly pass a clean debt limit bill."

"There are real disagreements among elected officials about the role of government, budgetary matters, and tax policy," the letter reads. "We understand that and welcome a robust debate and seeing where the American people stand. There's a time and place for that debate. This is not that time. The entire economy and the financial security of every working family is at stake."

The letter, also signed by the Alliance for Retired Americans and the AFL-CIO, comes days after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a speech on Wall Street that his caucus is assembling and preparing to vote on legislation that would lift the debt ceiling for roughly a year while slashing federal spending and imposing punitive new work requirements on recipients of Medicaid and federal nutrition assistance.

But it's unclear whether McCarthy will even have enough votes to get such a measure through the GOP-controlled House, given that Democrats are unanimously opposed and some far-right Republicans have already criticized the outlined package, claiming it wouldn't cut spending aggressively enough.

"Kevin McCarthy is holding the debt limit hostage, and can't even get his caucus to agree on a ransom demand," Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, told Common Dreams. "He is endangering the benefits that seniors rely on to survive, just to score political points."

"The only solution," Lawson added, "is for McCarthy to release his hostage and work with Democrats to pass a clean debt limit."

"Only a clean debt limit bill is standing up for seniors and working families."

If Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling—an arbitrary borrowing limit that progressives want abolished—the U.S. is expected to default on its debt sometime this summer, an outcome that experts say would be devastating for the U.S. and global economies.

A default could also have major implications for Social Security and Medicare, potentially causing payment delays and other disruptions.

In a memo released earlier this year, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM)—a signatory to Wednesday's letter—warned that "if Congress fails to raise or suspend the debt limit and allows the government to default on its legally binding financial obligations, an economic catastrophe would likely result and payment of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits would be jeopardized."

"The Treasury Department must have cash to pay benefits when they are due," the group explained. "Every month, the Treasury Department is required by law to make over $90 billion in payments to the 65 million retirees, disabled workers, widows, widowers, children, and spouses who receive Social Security benefits. The Treasury may not have enough incoming revenue to make those payments without the authority to cash in these securities."

"Absent the legal authority to borrow beyond the current ceiling," NCPSSM added, "Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other payments will not be made on time and in full unless Congress approves an increase in the debt limit."

House Republicans have previously floated plans to raise the Social Security retirement age—a move that would cut benefits across the board—but McCarthy insisted Monday that his caucus would not touch Social Security and Medicare in their debt limit proposal, which has yet to be finalized.

In their letter on Wednesday, the senior advocacy coalition recalled that "at this year's State of the Union, everyone stood up and clapped in agreement with President Joe Biden, signifying that they stand up for seniors and working people who rely on Social Security and Medicare."

"Only a clean debt limit bill is standing up for seniors and working families," the groups argued. "Certainly, cutting Social
Security or Medicare as a condition for raising the debt ceiling is not standing up for seniors. Nor is cutting Medicaid, SNAP, housing assistance, energy assistance, or any of the other myriad domestic programs that our families, retirees, and communities depend on to make ends meet."

"More fundamentally, risking an economic recession and threatening the financial security of every working family in this country would be a failure of Congress to fulfill its duty," the letter continued. "Congress raised the debt limit repeatedly without conditions during President Trump's four years in office. It should take that same step now, without delay. This should not be political. Rather, it is simply part of the job that everyone in Congress chose to seek."

On Wednesday morning, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus released a plan to avert a U.S. default if the House GOP refuses to agree to a clean debt limit increase by this summer.

The proposal would suspend the debt ceiling through December 31 and "establish an independent commission—modeled after a Pentagon panel that determines which military bases to close—to recommend a package to stabilize the debt and deficit, which would be voted on by Congress," Axiosreported.

The White House quickly threw cold water on the proposal, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying that "our position continues to be not to negotiate... over a default."

Social Security Works tweeted that the White House is "absolutely right," calling the Problem Solvers Caucus' framework "a terrible plan" and cautioning that "a 'fiscal commission' is code for cutting Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors."

"Congress must pass a clean debt limit increase, with NO CUTS to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or any other program," the group wrote.

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