Activists protest Republican threats to Social Security.

Activists protest Republican threats to Social Security.

(Photo: Araya Doheny/Getty Images for MoveOn)

Hey House GOP, Hands Off Social Security and Medicare!

House Speaker Mike Johnson knows how important Social Security is to hard-working Americans, so he has devised an accountability-free way to gut it.

Over a decade ago, I served on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, better known as the Bowles-Simpson Commission. That commission failed, but not before its cochairs tried to make deep cuts to the American people’s hard-earned Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Now, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is digging up the old playbook and wants to create a new commission modeled after Bowles-Simpson. This week, the House Budget Committee will hold its second hearing in two months on this idea.

Johnson is demanding a commission designed to slash the entire federal budget, including Social Security—even though Social Security doesn’t add even a penny to the deficit. It is legally excluded from the federal budget, self-funded, and can only pay benefits if it has sufficient revenue to cover the cost.

Republicans aren’t serious about the deficit. They aren’t even serious about governing. They are serious about only one thing, and that’s ripping away Social Security from seniors behind closed doors.

The White House has called the commission idea a death panel for Social Security. The AARP, AFL-CIO, Strengthen Social Security Coalition, National Organization for Women, and over 100 other organizations agree. What’s more, Speaker Johnson happily agrees. That’s why the commission that Johnson and the Budget Committee are considering would vote on final proposals, including gutting this incredibly popular program, the week after the 2024 election. The speaker knows how important Social Security is to hard-working Americans, so he has devised an accountability-free way to gut it.

Again, we don’t have to guess that this is what will happen, because Republicans have tried this before. During discussions on forming Bowles-Simpson in 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) astutely pointed out that “The Chairman and Ranking Republican Member of the Budget Committee have painted a big red bull’s eye on Social Security. Their commission is a Social Security-cutting machine.”

Sen. Baucus was right. The commission’s cochairs put forward a proposal which slashed Social Security. I strongly opposed this proposal and put forth my own alternative which would have reduced the deficit by $441 billion in 2015 without cutting essential programs. Thankfully, the cochairs’ recommendations failed to achieve the support needed to have them fast-tracked through Congress. After the failure of Bowles-Simpson, Republicans tried again to cut Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors through another fast-tracked process known as the Supercommittee. It was no more successful than Bowles-Simpson.

The bottom line is that a fiscal commission is political pandering, plain and simple. If Republicans were serious about addressing the deficit, they would use the reconciliation process, which is designed specifically to rein in federal spending. If Republicans cared about improving our fiscal position, they would demand the rich pay their fair share. If Republicans wanted to actually solve our budget challenges, they would robustly fund tax enforcement to ensure corporations are complying with laws already on the books.

But Republicans aren’t serious about the deficit. They aren’t even serious about governing. They are serious about only one thing, and that’s ripping away Social Security from seniors behind closed doors.

Democrats stand ready to prevent this from happening. President Joe Biden ran for office on a plan to protect and expand Social Security, and Members of Congress, including me, have introduced legislation that restores Social Security to long-range balance while expanding benefits with no cuts.

Instead of hiding behind a commission, Republicans should put their own plans for Social Security’s future on the table. When and if they do, I will debate both approaches in the light of day. I and my fellow Democrats stand ready to address our deficit and preserve the future of Social Security, and I invite Republicans to openly offer their proposals and give the American people a say.

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