If the Republican-controlled Congress comes for your Social Security benefits in the next few years, don’t say they didn’t warn you.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee 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.
Meanwhile, according to the latest numbers at Predictit.org, the online betting market, the GOP are cruising toward control of both the Senate and the House after next week’s midterms. Which means they will 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 denounce 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 the remarks in 2010. An audio recording has just resurfaced—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.”
Those changes, he said, should include raising the age at which we can become eligible for Social Security. 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 those already retired.)
Lee is not alone in wanting changes to Social Security. Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson, an ardent fan of anarcho-capitalist author Ayn Rand, is on record wanting the program turned into “discretionary” federal spending.
Republican senator Rick Scott of Florida, who as a private–sector businessman once oversaw the biggest fraud against Medicare in history, is on record 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,” he said.
Meanwhile eight other GOP Senators say they want to “rescue” America’s retirement program with unspecified, er, measures…to be decided behind closed doors.
That proposal, put forward by Utah senator Mitt Romney, is also being championed by occasional Republican maverick Lindsey Graham, who earlier year also spoke out for lower Social Security benefits for some to help “save” the program.
Among the other senators supporting Romney’s bill is Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who recently used her 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 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 in stocks like every other pension plan, 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.