Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), the chair of the Social Security Subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee, said that any benefit cuts to the program, including raising the retirement age, are “completely unacceptable” and should be taken off the table, contrasting many Democrats and even the House Majority Leader on the topic.
While Pomeroy followed the lead of many House Democrats and confined his attacks to the GOP on the subject, his critique of “an atmosphere of benefit cuts first” rebukes the likes of Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, members of the House leadership who have floated the prospect of raising the retirement age to bring the program into long-term actuarial balance (Even by doing nothing, Social Security can pay out all scheduled benefits through 2037, and pay 78% of all benefits forever after that).
“Even a phased-in adjustment in the age would change the terms of the deal,” Pomeroy said, noting that the retirement age is already scheduled to rise gradually to 67, as part of the terms of a 1983 deal on the program. “We think that benefit cuts are not the place you look at. There has been an atmosphere of benefit cuts first. There should not be benefit cuts period,” he added. “That is completely unacceptable… it would be a breach of faith with 53 million present SS recipients and tens of millions to follow.”
Pomeroy cited statistics that just 11% of all senior citizens are in poverty now, compared to 50% prior to Social Security, which celebrates its 75th anniversary on Saturday. Noting that the average benefit comes out to about $14,000 a year, Pomeroy and his colleagues on the call, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL) repeatedly rejected any calls for benefit cuts. Schakowsky said that revenue enhancements, like bringing the payroll tax cap back to its expected level of capturing 90% of all compensation, would be preferable. The trio also rejected any talk of privatization with personal accounts in the stock market. “How much risk do you want to add into this system that pays $14,000 a year,” Pomeroy asked. “We need one place where income is completely dependable.”
Klein agreed. “My seniors are adamant against benefit cuts. They feel like they paid into it. For many, this is their sole basis of income day to day. It’s not something I’m willing to negotiate on.”
In addition to fighting cuts to the program, Pomeroy has introduced the Senior’s Protection Act, which would provide a $250 one-time benefit to recipients next year if the Bureau of Labor Statistics fails to enact a cost-of-living adjustment. 2009 saw no COLA because of falling prices, and there was a $250 benefit added to the Recovery Act. Pomeroy said he expected his bill to pass the House in September.
Asked about the deficit commission (the reporter actually called it the “cat food commission”) on which she sits, Schakowsky said firmly that “Social Security has absolutely nothing to do with the deficit. In fact, the deficit would be $2.4T worse without Social Security,” because of the money raided from the Social Security Trust Fund. She acknowledged that some on the committee wanted to cut benefits, but she was seeking other options and would reject any use of Social Security to pay down the deficit.
A new poll out today shows that the public opposes any benefit cuts to the program. This is consistent with the findings of these three Representatives as they talk to constituents in their districts. When the Washington Post talks about “deniers” that Social Security needs reform, in the name of cutting benefits, they’re talking about the overwhelming majority of the population.