Blog | Social Security and Retirement

You'll Never Guess What's in the Latest Republican Ransom Note

A letter from 51 Republican House members to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) makes Social Security cuts the latest ransom demand of the Republican hostage-takers in Congress. This may be unwelcome news to the many tea party Republicans who depend on Social Security benefits.

The letter, signed by 51 Republican lawmakers, says that “Social Security provides us the best opportunity to begin solving our nation’s significant budget imbalances” and that “the ongoing fiscal discussions in Congress provide an opportunity to address entitlement program deficits...with our limited time frame to take action before we run up against fiscal deadlines.”

In other words, let’s use Social Security to reduce the deficit, and let’s use this manufactured budget crisis to get our way.

How do these 51 Republicans want to “change” Social Security to solve our budget imbalances? Their letter is not specific, but they point out that there are a “relatively few, well-known options” to do so.

Indeed there are. We have seen these well-known options trotted out by Republican members of Congress over and over again.

For example, the cover letter from Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) specifically identifies three “well-known options” to cut Social Security benefits:

  • Cutting Social Security benefits with a chained CPI cost-of-living formula;
  • Raising the Social Security retirement age; and
  • Means-testing Social Security benefits.

Read more about these benefit cuts here.

Ribble spells out exactly how the upcoming “fiscal deadlines” can be used to get these Social Security proposals through Congress. First, you increase the debt ceiling for six weeks, then in the intervening six weeks you attach Social Security legislation to a longer-term increase in the debt ceiling.

Perhaps the most “well-known option” to reduce the deficit by “changing” Social Security is the "chained" CPI, which would cut Social Security benefits by reducing Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs).

In Ribble's district in Wisconsin, there are more than 140,000 Social Security recipients whose benefits would be cut because of the "chained" CPI. The benefits of Ribble’s constituents would be cut $4 million in 2015 and $57 million in 2023.

The 51 Republicans who signed his letter might want to check out this report by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which will tell them the number of their constituents whose benefits would be cut by the "chained" CPI.

They also might want to check out this report, which shows how much the "chained" CPI would cut their constituents’ benefits from 2015 to 2023, as well as the impact of these benefit cuts on jobs in their district.

It might be safe to assume that many of these constituents who would suffer the most from Republican hostage-taking are tea party Republicans.

Of course, cutting Social Security benefits is just one of the ransom demands made by Republicans in Congress. As AFL-CIO Policy Director Damon Silvers recently wrote:

That’s why people need to tell the president, ‘stand tall, we are with you. No negotiating with hostage-takers. Not about the Affordable Care Act, not about the Grand Bargain and certainly not about cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, or more giveaways for big corporations that outsource jobs. You won the election. You must defend democracy and you must stand up for the 99%, and that means no more rewarding hostage-takers.’