House GOP panel releases budget that would "destroy Social Security as we know it"

The proposed budget calls for tax cuts for the uber-rich and an increase in the Social Security retirement age

Published June 16, 2023 3:31PM (EDT)

Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK) speaks at a press conference with House Republicans on Capitol Hill on November 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK) speaks at a press conference with House Republicans on Capitol Hill on November 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

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A panel comprised of three-quarters of the House Republican caucus released a budget proposal on Wednesday that would raise the Social Security retirement age—cutting benefits across the board—while further privatizing Medicare and slashing taxes for the rich, a plan that Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups said is a clear statement of the GOP's warped priorities ahead of a critical spending fight this fall.

The proposal outlined by the 175-member Republican Study Committee (RSC), led by Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., would gradually raise Social Security's full retirement age—the age at which people are eligible for full Social Security benefits—to 69, up from the current level of 67 for those born in 1960 or later.

Nancy Altman, the president of Social Security Workssaid the RSC budget would "destroy Social Security as we know it," using a "modest shortfall" that's more than a decade away to justify reducing benefits for millions.

"These changes would transform Social Security from an earned insurance benefit, which replaces wages lost in the event of old age, disability, or death, into a subsistence-level welfare benefit," said Altman, who noted that the RSC "rules out any options for raising revenue, such as requiring billionaires to contribute even a penny more."

Currently, just the first $160,200 of wage earnings are subject to Social Security's payroll tax, allowing the rich to stop contributing to the program early each year.

The GOP's refusal to force the wealthy to put more of their income into the program "leaves benefit cuts as the only 'solution,'" said Altman.

"In other words, they want to cut benefits now to avoid cutting them later, which isn't a solution at all. Indeed, the budget will increase the number of workers who will have no ability to retire while maintaining their standard of living," she added. "The RSC plan would make it especially hard for Americans so disabled that they can no longer work to claim their earned Social Security, and far easier for the government to take those benefits away."

Far from raising taxes on the rich, the RSC budget calls for massive tax cuts by proposing a permanent extension of the individual tax provisions of the 2017 Trump-GOP tax law. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that such a move would add $2.5 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade.

"The largest group of House Republicans just released a budget that calls for massive tax cuts for the super-rich and raising the Social Security retirement age, a benefit cut for millions of Americans," Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., a member of the House's chief tax-writing committee, wrote on Twitter.

The RSC budget also targets Medicare with a "premium support model" that would subsidize private insurance plans, effectively transforming Medicare into a voucher program—an idea previously advanced by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Altman pointed out that the plan contains a "particularly cruel provision" that "would force disability beneficiaries to wait five long years (instead of the current two, which is already too long) before becoming eligible for Medicare benefits."

"Outrageously, this change would deprive some of the most medically vulnerable people in America of healthcare," said Altman. "This provision alone would inevitably lead to more medical bankruptcies and increased homelessness."

The GOP proposal also demands work requirements for "all federal benefit programs" and sides with the pharmaceutical industry in calling for a repeal of Inflation Reduction Act provisions aimed at lowering prescription drug costs.

"The ink is barely dry on the Bipartisan Budget Agreement and House Republicans are already reneging on the deal and undercutting their own speaker," Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in a statement, referring to the recently approved debt ceiling measure that sets topline spending levels.

"What's worse, Republicans are attempting to renege on our sacred promise to American workers and seniors by renewing their attacks on Social Security and Medicare," said Boyle. "It is astounding that the overwhelming majority of House Republicans support this backwards and extreme budget, but, after they manufactured a default crisis to try to force cruel cuts, I guess we shouldn't be shocked."

"Budget Committee Democrats will make sure every American family knows that House Republicans want to force Americans to work longer for less, raise families' costs, weaken our nation, and shrink our economy—all while wasting billions of dollars on more favors to special interests and handouts to the ultra-wealthy," Boyle added.

While House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is not a member of the RSC, he has also signaled plans to pursue cuts to Social Security in the coming months by setting up a bipartisan "commission" that would propose changes to the program.

"Republicans know how politically toxic their plans to gut Social Security and Medicare are, so they are begging Democrats to share the blame," Altman said Wednesday. "Not a single Democrat should take the bait. Instead, they should fight to protect and expand Social Security and Medicare, and pay for it by requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share. Then, let the American people decide which plan they prefer."

By Jake Johnson

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