Democrats led by Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Raul Grijalva are drawing a line in the sand before the White House’s fiscal commission: If your report recommends cuts or other changes to Social Security, they will say, you’ll lose our support.
In a letter to be sent to President Obama, obtained by TPM, House Democrats will pledge to vote against any legislation based on the commission’s report unless Social Security is taken off the table.
“We oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age,” the letter reads. “We also oppose any effort to privatize Social Security, in whole or in part…. If any of the Commission’s recommendations cut or diminish Social Security in any way, we will stand firmly against them.”
The effort is intended to tie the commission’s hands, at least on this issue.
“It’s up to members of Congress to pre-empt the commission,” says Alex Lawson, communications director for the advocacy group Social Security Works
Grijalva’s effort is a response to signals and reports suggesting the commission, riven over issues like taxes and defense spending, is reaching common ground on Social Security cuts.
Democrats and advocates are rounding up signers, and will deliver the letter to Obama once the numbers climb, likely after Congress returns later this month. The original cosigners are Grijalva, John Conyers (D-MI), Dan Maffei (D-NY), Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and CPC co-chair Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). They issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to House members earlier this afternoon and have identified dozens of potential signatories based on pledges and past statements.
The CPC has, of course, tried to throw its weight around in the past with little success. Dozens of House Democrats once pledged to vote against a health care bill that didn’t include a public option, then lost the tug of war and voted yes. But the Social Security fight is different. The underlying legislation won’t embody a goal — like universal health care — that progressives had pursued for generations. There’s much more reason to take this pledge at face value. The question is whether they can round up enough votes to block a bill if it has broad support among Republicans and conservative Democrats.
You can read the text of the letter in its entirety below.
Dear Mr. President,
We write today to express our strong support for Social Security and our view that it should be strengthened. We oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age. We also oppose any effort to privatize Social Security, in whole or in part.
You have charged the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with proposing recommendations that improve the long-term fiscal outlook and address the growth of entitlement spending. It is our view that Social Security—which is prohibited by law from adding to the national budget deficit—does not belong as part of those recommendations.
By 2023, Social Security will have built up a $4.3 trillion surplus, and, without any action, can pay at least 75 percent of all benefits thereafter. Because Social Security is funded separately from the general treasury and has no borrowing authority, it has not contributed to the federal deficit. Despite these facts, some Commission members have repeatedly alleged the need to cut Social Security for budgetary reasons.
For 75 years, Social Security has been a promise to the American people that if they work hard and pay their fair share, they will have a financially secure retirement. In communities across this country, Social Security benefits are often the only source of income helping families maintain a decent standard of living. Social Security’s benefits are modest, averaging less than $13,000 a year, but they are vital to the vast majority of Americans who receive them.
Cutting Social Security benefits further than they are already being cut by raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 would create needless hardship for millions of vulnerable Americans. This is especially true in the face of an economic downturn that has wiped out trillions of dollars that Americans were relying on for their retirement security and the increased dismantlement of the private and public pension systems.
If any of the Commission’s recommendations cut or diminish Social Security in any way, we will stand firmly against them. We urge you to join us in protecting and strengthening Social Security rather than letting it fall victim to a misguided attempt to reduce budget deficits on the backs of working families.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.