More than 156,000 people, including retirees, widowers, spouses, and children in southern West Virginia rely on Social Security benefits each month. For many, Social Security is a lifeline, especially for those who rely solely on their monthly check to cover living expenses.
Long ago, Congress shielded Social Security from getting whipsawed in federal budget fights. Social Security is not contributing to the current budget impasse. This year, Social Security is projected to generate a roughly $58 billion surplus, and it has been running surpluses since the early 1980s.
Three things are driving these alarming deficit projections – the weak economy, the Bush tax cuts, and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is grossly unfair to ask seniors and working families to shoulder additional burdens, and to cut back on Social Security benefits without extending the long-term solvency of the program, while some insist that every tax break for millionaires, and every tax dodge and loophole for multinational corporations should be extended in perpetuity.
The Congress must address the statutory debt ceiling by August 2, which is when the Treasury Department projects that it will be forced to default on its debt obligations. We need to keep our heads and focus on balance and moderation in finding our way past the current budget impasse; looking at all sides of the budget and crafting a series of deficit reduction bills over time that will help ensure the long-term economic security of all Americans. But, Social Security should remain off the table.
That’s why I have written to the President, and cosponsored a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives, making my opposition known to any proposals being discussed as part of broader budget negotiations to trade away Social Security benefits in order to offset deficits in other areas of the budget.
One idea that has been raised as part of broader budget negotiations is to substitute a new inflation index, known as a chained consumer price index, in calculating Social Security benefits. The effect of such a proposal would be to slowly reduce Social Security benefits over time.
That may sound reasonable to some, but it also sets a very dangerous precedent, poaching the Social Security trust funds to pay for tax cuts and non-Social Security spending.
After forgoing a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the last two years, retirees and working families cannot afford to give up this crucial income. And, they should not have to do so.
I am a cosponsor of the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act of 2011, a bill that would create a new inflation index to help ensure that Social Security beneficiaries receive an annual COLA that keeps pace with rising prices incurred by seniors.
Social Security has its own set of challenges, which is why the Congress treats it separately for budget purposes, designating all Social Security revenues and outlays as “off-budget.” The Congress established safeguards to ensure the fiscal integrity of the Social Security program, so that we do not do what some are suggesting we do – using Social Security monies to pay for unrelated matters.
We must be realistic. To deny seniors a COLA two years in row, and then to scale back their benefits even further in order to offset non-Social Security spending elsewhere in the budget, is too much to ask. Anyone who thinks that seniors have not incurred higher expenses in the last two years must have their heads buried in the sand.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s 3rd District.