The veiled threat of fiscal commission as gateway to Social Security and Medicare cuts

In a controversial move, the GOP-led House Budget Committee's hearing to establish a fiscal commission raises alarms for potential cuts in Social Security and Medicare, sparking widespread criticism and concerns for the future of these essential programs.

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The House Budget Committee, now under Republican control, is convening a critical hearing this Wednesday. The agenda? To scrutinize a proposal to form a fiscal commission focusing on U.S. debt. However, this initiative is steeped in controversy, as critics warn it could be a covert strategy to cut Social Security and Medicare.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), known for advocating Social Security reductions, has thrown his weight behind this commission, marking it as a top priority since assuming his position. The proposal also enjoys support from right-wing entities, including the Koch-affiliated FreedomWorks group.

This proposed fiscal commission, backed by certain congressional Republicans and conservative Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), aims to evaluate trust fund programs such as Social Security and Medicare. It’s tasked with developing recommendations to ostensibly enhance these programs’ financial health. The worry, however, is that these proposals, once formulated, will be fast-tracked through both the House and Senate.

Organizations like Social Security Works are pushing back hard, emphasizing that Social Security doesn’t contribute to federal debt. They interpret this move as a cloaked agenda to slash Social Security and Medicare, labeling it a ‘death panel’ operating in secrecy. The organization cautions Democrats to remain united in opposition.

The Wednesday hearing will spotlight Manchin and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), both of whom have collaborated on a bill to establish a 16-member bipartisan fiscal commission. This commission would feature 12 elected officials and four external experts. Interestingly, both Manchin and Romney have announced they won’t seek reelection next year.

Alex Lawson, the executive director of Social Security Works, minced no words in calling Manchin and Romney “cowards” for their proposal, accusing them of attempting to orchestrate Social Security and Medicare cuts before leaving office.

Manchin’s office has released a legislative summary stating the commission’s goal: to propose solutions for improving the federal government’s long-term fiscal state and ensuring the solvency of federal trust funds over 75 years. These proposals would get expedited consideration in Congress, requiring a simple majority for initial proceedings but a 60-vote threshold for final passage in the Senate.

The hearing will also discuss two other related legislative pieces. Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), a supporter of the fiscal commission and chair of the committee, has previously advocated for raising the Social Security retirement age.

Progressive lawmakers and groups argue against benefit cuts, suggesting that fully funding Social Security for over seven decades and expanding benefits is feasible by lifting the payroll tax cap, which currently shields high-income earners from additional taxes on earnings above $160,000. They stress that all options to address Social Security’s projected shortfall, which is still a decade away and manageable, are well understood. The implication is clear: resorting to a secretive commission suggests an intent to cut benefits while dodging political accountability.

Simultaneously, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has called on House Republicans to exclude Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid cuts from the fiscal commission proposal. He criticized Speaker Johnson for his past actions favoring the wealthy at the expense of these programs. Wyden’s stance reflects a broader Democratic approach that advocates for the wealthy to pay their fair share, thereby securing the fiscal health of Social Security and Medicare.

Johnson, during his time as chair of the Republican Study Committee, was instrumental in drafting budget resolutions calling for significant cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. His stance aligns with the broader House Republican caucus, which, under the new leadership of Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), proposes to raise the Social Security retirement age and make sweeping changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

These developments point to a deepening divide on fiscal policy, with the future of critical social programs hanging in the balance. As the House gears up for this pivotal hearing, the nation watches, waiting to see if these foundational pillars of American social security will be upheld or undermined.

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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