The chair of the Senate Finance Committee said legislation advanced Thursday by the GOP-controlled House Budget Committee is a “backroom scheme” to cut Social Security and Medicare outside of the regular political process, a warning that came as Republicans signaled their intention to attach the bill to a must-pass government funding measure.
“Republicans in Congress know their plans to gut Americans’ Social Security and Medicare benefits are deeply unpopular, so they are resorting to schemes that short-circuit the legislative process, rushing through cuts to Americans’ earned benefits,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said of the Fiscal Commission Act, which passed out of the House Budget Committee in a largely party-line vote.
Three Democrats — Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) — joined Republicans in supporting the bill, which now heads to the full House.
Wyden argued Thursday that “the term ‘fiscal commission’ is the ultimate Washington buzzword, and it translates to trading away Americans’ earned benefits in a secretive, closed-door process.”
“Instead of trying to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid,” Wyden added, “Republicans should work with Democrats to ensure the wealthy pay their fair share, which would go a long way towards securing Social Security and Medicare long into the future.”
If passed, the Fiscal Commission Act would establish a bipartisan, bicameral, 16-member panel consisting of both lawmakers and individuals from the private sector, all chosen by congressional leaders.
The commission would be tasked with crafting and voting on policy recommendations for Social Security, Medicare, and other trust fund programs. If approved by the commission, the recommendations would receive expedited consideration in both the House and Senate, with no amendments to the final document allowed.
Social Security defenders have long warned that the GOP-led push for a fiscal commission is a ploy to slash the New Deal program, which helps keep tens of millions of seniors and children above the poverty line every year.
During Thursday’s budget committee hearing, Republican members did nothing to assuage concerns about their intentions, voting down a proposed amendment from Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) that said the fiscal commission “shall propose recommendations to strengthen and secure Social Security” by “protecting Social Security benefits” and requiring the wealthy to contribute more to the program.
Republican committee members also rejected Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s (D-Texas) amendment stating that the fiscal commission “shall propose recommendations to strengthen and secure Medicare” by “protecting the traditional Medicare program” and extending its solvency by “requiring taxpayers with incomes above $400,000 to contribute more” and closing a loophole that allows rich business owners to avoid Medicare taxes.
At a press conference following Thursday’s hearing, House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) said that Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) — a longtime supporter of deep Social Security and Medicare cuts — is “100% committed to this commission” and hopes to tie it to government funding legislation.
“Probably that’s its best chance of success, but I also think it’s most germane to attach it to our final funding bill.”
The Fiscal Commission Act has some support in the Senate. In a joint statement on Thursday, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — both of whom declined to run for reelection this year — applauded the budget committee for “advancing this commonsense legislation.”
“We also appreciate Speaker Johnson’s continued support for this effort,” added the senators, who are leading a companion bill in the upper chamber. “Taking immediate, corrective action to reverse this catastrophic financial demise of our own making will help ensure that our children and grandchildren are not burdened by our poor fiscal choices.”
But the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) stressed Thursday that “Social Security and Medicare Part A are fully self-funded and do not contribute to the debt.”
“The biggest drivers of the debt are ‘tax expenditures’ — giveaways to the wealthy and large corporations like the Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017 that Republicans insist be extended,” the group noted. According to a recent analysis by the Center for American Progress, debt as a percentage of the U.S. economy would be on the decline if the Bush and Trump tax cuts were never passed.
Max Richtman, NCPSSM’s president and CEO, said in a statement that the fiscal commission push is “designed to give individual members of Congress political cover for cutting Americans’ earned benefits.”
“Any changes to Social Security and Medicare should go through regular order and not be relegated to a commission unaccountable to the public and rushed through the Congress,” he added. “This bill should be opposed by any member of Congress who cares about Social Security, Medicare, and their constituents who depend on them.”