Mike Johnson flanked by Tom Emmer and Elise Stefanik

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.)—flanked by Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)—speaks at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on November 2, 2023.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Giving Thanks for Social Security and Staying Vigilant Against a GOP Death Panel

As long as Republicans control at least one chamber of Congress and refuse to fully fund the government for the entire year, Social Security and Medicare will be in danger.

For over 80 years, Social Security has given American families a reason to be thankful each and every month. Over 66 million Americans currently receive Social Security’s earned monthly benefits.

Our Social Security system represents the best of American values, including reward for hard work, sturdy self-reliance, and shared risks and responsibilities. It is efficient, virtually universal, fair, portable, and secure. Nearly every American is either a current Social Security beneficiary or is likely to be one in the future. And every single one of us benefits from living in a country in which all of us join together, through our Social Security system, to provide ourselves and each other with, in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “sound and adequate protection against the vicissitudes of modern life.”

This Thanksgiving, families across the country are united in our appreciation of Social Security. If we don't give express thanks, it is because it may not come to mind, for good reason. Social Security is always there, quietly in the background, doing what it was created to do. It protects us if the unfortunate strikes in the form of disability or death of a family breadwinner. It is there if the fortunate occurs in the form of long life. We can outlive our savings, but not our Social Security!

Everyone who cares about Social Security’s future also has an extra reason to be thankful this year. For weeks this fall, from late October until mid-November, it looked likely that the new Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson (R-LA), would demand the creation of a “fiscal commission” in return for not shutting down the government.

For now, all Americans have escaped the danger of a commission designed to cut our hard-earned benefits. But we must remain vigilant.

Such a commission would be a “death panel” for Social Security and Medicare. Those aren’t just my words—they are the Biden administration’s. Johnson has yet to release legislative text of his death panel, but it will likely resemble the commission that Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) proposed near the end of his speakership.

That commission was designed to subvert the will of the American people by fast-tracking cuts to Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors. It specified that Congress would vote on the cuts immediately after the 2024 election, avoiding democratic accountability. Additionally, members could not amend it or filibuster it. It was designed to force unpopular changes to our earned benefits with as little political accountability as possible. Fortunately, it did not become law, but nearly every Republican voted for it.

Speaker Johnson was one of those Republican votes—and he hasn’t given up. In his very first speech after being elected Speaker, Johnson pledged to establish a commission “immediately.” Social Security beneficiaries and their advocates fought back. Over 100 groups representing labor unions, advocates for seniors and people with disabilities, women’s rights organizations, and many others wrote to every member of Congress that “we consider support for a debt commission to be support for cutting Social Security.”

Congressional Democrats listened. Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries made it clear that his caucus would only support a clean funding bill, not one that included a “fiscal commission.” House Ways and Means Committee Democrats rightfully stated that “commissions are cuts behind closed doors” and “Democrats are united in protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare.”

Faced with strong Democratic opposition, Speaker Johnson caved—for now. He brought forward a clean bill, with no commission. The legislation, which President Biden has now signed into law, keeps parts of the government funded until January 19th and other parts funded until February 2nd.

Thankfully, Social Security Administration employees and all other dedicated federal civil servants, along with their families, will be able to enjoy Thanksgiving and the entire December holiday season. It means that they will not have to spend the holidays trying to pay their bills without a paycheck. It also means that for now, all Americans have escaped the danger of a commission designed to cut our hard-earned benefits.

But we must remain vigilant. Johnson is continuing to call for a commission. Consequently, we will be confronting the possibility of a government shutdown and a Social Security/Medicare death panel commission soon after the start of the New Year.

This Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks—and to prepare ourselves for the fight ahead. As long as Republicans control at least one chamber of Congress and refuse to fully fund the government for the entire year, Social Security and Medicare will be in danger. Speaker Johnson and his fellow Republicans will not stop pushing the commission. We need to make sure Democrats stand as strong in January and February as they did in November.

Every member of Congress needs to hear from their voters over the next few months. Let them know that we are watching and we will not forget.

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