If a Republican-controlled Congress comes for your Social Security benefits in the next few years, don’t say they didn’t warn you.
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah brings to a round dozen the number of sitting GOP senators who have said, quite openly, that they want to put Social Security on the chopping block one way or another.
As Social Security benefits are looking at a 20% cut without new taxes, we may be talking about major changes to America’s retirement plan.
“ ‘I vaguely remember a time in 2010 when we were talking about a bunch of things.’ ”
— Sen. Mike Lee of Utah
Meanwhile, according to the latest numbers at Predictit.org, the online betting market, the Republicans are cruising toward control of the House after next week’s midterms and have a growing chance of also winning the Senate. Which means they would have the means and opportunity as well as the motive to start taking the pruning shears, or an ax, to America’s retirement plan.
Make of that what you will.
Lee this week refused to disavow or deny his past remarks that he wanted “to phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it.” He made those remarks in 2010, and an audio recording just resurfaced — and is appearing in a (video) attack ad in Utah, where Lee is up for re-election.
Challenged about the remarks, Lee told an interviewer late last month, “I don’t recall ever having advocated for dismantling those [programs]. … I don’t recall advocating for dismantling them.” He added, “I vaguely remember a time in 2010 when we were talking about a bunch of things.”
Another clip exists showing Lee making other alarming remarks about what he would like to do to Social Security if he ever got his hands on it. “We have to start making some very difficult, some very drastic decisions about Social Security,” he said (also back in 2010). While he said those already receiving benefits should have those benefits left intact, “those who have not yet retired but will be retiring in the next 10 to 20 years need to be told right now, so they can start planning ahead, you have to start making some changes.”
Changes, he said, should include raising the age at which those who have paid into Social Security become eligible for benefits. That’s a cut in benefits for each future beneficiary, no matter what people call it.
(To be clear, Lee has said he doesn’t want to cut benefits for Americans who have already retired.)
Lee is not alone in wanting changes to Social Security. Fellow Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of his party’s ardent fans of anarcho-capitalist author Ayn Rand, is on record as wanting the program turned into “discretionary” federal spending.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who as a private–sector businessman once oversaw the biggest fraud against Medicare in history, is on record as wanting to introduce an automatic five-year “sunset” on all federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare. “If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” Scott said.
Meanwhile eight other GOP senators say they want to “rescue” America’s retirement program with unspecified, er, measures … to be decided upon behind closed doors.
That proposal, put forward by Lee’s fellow Utah senator Mitt Romney, is also being championed by occasional Republican maverick Lindsey Graham, who earlier year spoke out for lower Social Security benefits for some to help “save” the program.
Among the other senators supporting Romney’s bill is Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who recently used her pivotal vote to save those important special tax breaks America offers to private-equity honchos, hedge-fund tycoons and venture capitalists. (The carried-interest loophole, designed just for them, cuts their top rate of income tax nearly in half.)
Naturally if you give billionaires a near-50% cut in their tax rates, the money has got to come from somewhere. And why not Grandma?
There is, actually, no reason to cut Social Security benefits unless you want to. The program can be maintained through other changes, such as ending the payroll-tax cap; investing the trust fund at least in part in stocks, as every other pension plan does; levying a wealth tax on all assets; increasing high-skilled immigration; or issuing bonds.
It will be interesting if, instead, the next Congress chooses to start cutting benefits. And if the voters who were perfectly well-informed in advance suddenly squeal with shock.