Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Congressional Republicans backing down from big Social Security disability fight

Sen. Sherrod Brown
On day one of this session in Congress, House Republicans attacked Social Security, passing a rule for themselves that they could not allow a shift of funds from the Social Security retirement pot to the disability pot unless they took on "reform" of the whole program. The disability fund is facing a serious shortfall by the end of next year, when benefits would have to be cut by 20 percent, unless the fund is replenished. This has happened before, and a simple transfer of funds between the two pots of money has been the solution. But Republicans wanted to create a Social Security crisis, so they blocked that potential action. Now their ardor for a Social Security fight in an election year seems to be cooling.
Lawmakers are planning to package some disability reforms together, but whatever bill Congress comes up with won't do enough quickly enough to fix the program's finances and stop the cut. So they'll have to move some money around to avert a crisis. According to lawmakers, aides, and other sources, one of the options being seriously considered is what's known as interfund borrowing: The much-bigger retirement fund would loan money to the disability program.

And because the disability fund would have to pay the money back, it would set the stage for another debate about Social Security in the near future. A loan would give Congress the ability to effectively set a date for when Social Security's disability program would need to be addressed again, which is part of the appeal to Republicans, and many in Washington think that would lead to a broader conversation. […]

Multiple sources said that the House GOP's preferred means of avoiding the 2016 cut is a loan. Rep. Tom Reed, another member of the Ways and Means panel, ticked off its benefits in a recent interview, though he declined to outright endorse it.

They actually don't want to have to have this fight in an election year, thinking they can put it off until after when they might, just might have a Republican president who will destroy Social Security with them. Now that they're backing down from this mess they created for themselves, Democrats might not let them out so easy. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the Senate Finance subcommittee on Social Security, makes it clear: "Robbing the Social Security trust fund for seniors in order to temporarily support disability insurance will only undermine the disability fund in the long run—as it will would be required to payback funds with interest." He's going to continue to push for a simple reallocation. His House counterparts need to do the same.

Republicans are already playing with fire by flirting with a shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding. Democrats might as well heap some Social Security fighting on top of that, particularly since Republicans are already trying to back away from that fight. They should continue their push for a simple reallocation, as Brown is advocating, and nothing less.

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