U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.)

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) shakes hands with Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) inside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on October 25, 2023.

(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

MAGA Mike Johnson's Catfood Commission 3.0 Is Part of GOP Obsession to Kill Social Security

Tomorrow’s hearing will be behind closed doors, and, if mainstream media’s historic reluctance to highlight the GOP’s hatred of Social Security is any indication, it’s unlikely it’ll even be covered by the press in any significant way.

Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed Social Security through Congress, signing it into law on August 14th 1935, and Republicans opposed it then and have hated it ever since.

This week, they’re planning to do something about it with a House hearing designed to set up a closed-door commission to “reform” the program. They figure when government funding runs out in January they’ll be able use the fiscal crisis they intend to create to force Democrats to go along with what the Biden administration calls a “Death Panel for Medicare and Social Security.”

There is an incredibly long history here.

Back in 1935 during the debate on Social Security, New York Republican Congressman James Wadsworth rose to warn America that the program to end poverty among the elderly was an effort by Roosevelt to establish a dictatorship in America. It would be, he said:

“[A] power so vast, so powerful as to threaten the integrity of our institutions and to pull the pillars of the temple down upon the heads of our descendants.”

Echoing Wadsworth, fellow New Yorker Republican Daniel Reed, imagining himself a modern-day Paul Revere, declared, “The lash of the dictator will [soon] be felt!”

The next year was a presidential election, and the 1936 Republican presidential candidate, Alf Landon, campaigned on ending Social Security’s “cruel hoax” and “fraud on the working man”; four years later, the GOP’s 1940 presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie, promised Americans that “you will never collect a dollar of your Social Security.”

It hasn’t quite worked out that way: Social Security has never missed a payment, never bounced a check, and pretty much ended the widespread deaths by poverty-associated hunger and freezing to death in the winter that were widespread among the elderly before its adoption.

Nonetheless, Republicans still hate the program. As do the fat-cat bankers who fund them and think those trillions in the Social Security Trust Fund should be in their money bins where they can skim a few billion a month off in administrative fees for themselves and the politicians they own.

Over the past two decades, Republicans in Congress have done everything they can to sour Americans on Social Security, mostly by repeatedly gutting funding for its administration every time they have control of the budget process.

The GOP’s plan has been to so overburden workers at the Social Security Administration that it takes absurd amounts of time and effort for people turning 65 to sign up, or for seniors on Social Security to find anybody to talk with about problems with or confusion about their claims.

In this, they’ve been spectacularly successful, forcing cut after cut into must-pass budget bills under the threat of government shutdowns.

As the economists at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) note:

“Congress has cut SSA’s core operating budget by 17 percent since 2010, after adjusting for inflation. These cuts hurt SSA’s service to the public in every state. The agency has been forced to shutter field offices and shrink its staff, leading to longer waits for service and growing backlogs. While the overall effect is a decline in service nationwide, the effects of the cuts vary considerably by state.
“SSA’s staff shrank by 15 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2021, so there are fewer people to take appointments, answer phones, and process applications for Social Security’s vital retirement, survivors, and disability benefits.
“As a result, workers and beneficiaries must wait longer to be served. Four states — Alaska, Iowa, Virginia, and West Virginia — and Puerto Rico have each lost more than 25 percent of their staff since 2010. …
“DDS (disability) staff shrank by 16 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2021. Eight states — Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia — each lost over 30 percent of their DDS staff.”

Congressional Republicans’ hope, of course, is to make the administration of Social Security so clunky that frustrated Americans will go along with turning the program over to the giant banks who own the Republican Party (and more than a few Democrats).

And now House Speaker MAGA Mike Johnson is keeping his promise to his banking industry donors, making one of his first orders of business to push forward the further immiseration — and ultimate privatization — of Social Security.

He’s not the first.

When Ronald Reagan had a chance, he jumped at the opportunity to avoid political heat by passing the buck to a 1981 commission headed up by Libertarian/Republican Alan Greenspan (a former member of Ayn Rand’s cult, who brought a dollar-shaped floral wreath to her funeral).

To “save” Social Security and avoid lifting the cap on Social Security taxes (today set at $160,200: if you make more than that, you and every millionaire and billionaire in America don’t pay an additional penny to support Social Security), Reagan’s commission made benefits taxable for the first time, nearly doubled the Social Security part of the FICA tax rate working-class people paid, and raised the retirement/eligibility age from 65 to 67.

That, though, wasn’t nearly enough for Republicans who still consider Social Security “tyranny,” “socialism,” “fraud,” a “Ponzi scheme,” and a “hoax.”

— Senator Rick Scott, before being called out by President Biden, pushed a plan to require the very existence of the entire Social Security program to be reauthorized by Congress every 5 years or it would automatically expire.

— Senator Ron Johnson demanded it become part of annual budget negotiations that could be held hostage to the debt ceiling.

— Lindsey Graham called “entitlement reform” a “must” and the largest caucus in the GOP, the Republican Study Committee, published a proposal that would turn Social Security into a welfare program as an initial step toward full privatization.

— Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio has called for raising the retirement age even higher than Reagan’s 67, and Senator Mike Lee called for a total “phase out” of Social Security.

— Florida Republican Congressman Mike Waltz told Fox Business, “If we really want to talk about the debt and spending, it’s the entitlements programs.”

— Senators John Thune and Mitt Romney have floated similar proposals. The list could go on for pages, particularly if we go back through previous decades.

And it’s not just Republicans in Congress who have worked for years to destroy Social Security: so have GOP presidents.

In 2005, after winning reelection based on his 2003 “wartime president” scheme to lie America into attacking Iraq and Afghanistan, George W. Bush (who campaigned for Congress in 1978 on turning Social Security over to the big banks like the one his grandfather ran) began a tour of America touting full privatization of Social Security.

“I earned capital in this campaign,” he said, “political capital, and now I intend to spend it [on privatizing Social Security].”

In that, he was simply trying to fulfill his campaign promise that banks, instead of the government, should administer “private” Social Security accounts for seniors. As he said in his 2004 State of the Union address:

“Younger workers should have the opportunity to build a nest egg by saving part of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account. We should make the Social Security system a source of ownership for the American people.”

Back in 2010, President Obama established a bipartisan commission by executive order to look at ways to reduce the national debt, but Republicans on the commission demanded it focus instead on cutting Social Security (which has nothing to do with the nation’s debt, as SS is self-funding).

Because of the GOP’s obsession with using the commission as an opportunity to try to cut the program, Democrats began calling it the “Catfood Commission”: the GOPs’ proposed cuts in benefits would force seniors to eat cheap cat food to survive. The commission died an ignominious death.

Now Speaker MAGA Mike Johnson wants to revive the Catfood Commission, only this time behind closed doors where the capitol police can keep out those pesky members of the press and the public.

Its first meeting will be tomorrow, headed up by Republican Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington. (The announcement is here.)

Social Security Works Executive Director Alex Lawson asked Representative Arrington if Republicans were planning to cut benefits to seniors with their proposed commission and, as Lawson noted in a viral Twitter video, Arrington:

“REFUSES to tax the ultra-wealthy to protect Social Security. Instead, he plans to create a death panel to cut Social Security behind closed doors.”

Republicans now think they have the wind at their backs in this effort, which banks have poured hundreds of millions of lobbying and campaign contribution dollars into over the years.

Fully 10,000 people become eligible for Social Security every day, and these new retirees are increasingly frustrated with the time delays at the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the difficulty even reaching a real person to speak with.

This, of course, is the intended outcome of more than a decade of GOP cuts to the program’s administrative staff.

As CPBB notes:

“SSA lost roughly 11,000 employees between 2010 and 2021 and expects to lose another 4,500 front-line employees this year. State DDSs lost roughly 2,500 employees between 2010 and 2021 and attrition over the past year is over 25 percent. Inevitably, understaffing means that beneficiaries must wait longer to be served.
“The average processing time for an initial disability claim had held fairly steady in recent years at three to four months, but has been rising and reached over six months in April 2022. One million applicants awaited a decision on their disability benefit applications as of April 1, 2022.”

Tomorrow’s hearing will be behind closed doors, and, if mainstream media’s historic reluctance to highlight the GOP’s hatred of Social Security is any indication, it’s unlikely it’ll even be covered by the press in any significant way.

But keep an eye on this and tell everyone you know about it. Social Security Works is leading the charge to notify the public, noting that over 100 national organizations have already spoken out against this latest Republican attack on the program.

Both the MAGA faction and the old-line “conservative” corporate shill members of the GOP are dead serious about killing off this vital and important part of FDR’s legacy: it’s going to take grassroots outrage to stop them.

Join the Movement: Become Part of the Solution Today

We're optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter counts.

Your contribution supports this new media model—free, independent, and dedicated to uncovering the truth. Stand with us in the fight for social justice, human rights, and equality. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.