Over the past four years that Republicans have controlled one-half of Congress, most of their energy was focused on killing Americans’ jobs. Now that they control the entire Congress thanks to the billionaire Koch brothers, Republicans have shifted their focus slightly away from just killing Americans’ jobs to killing disabled Americans; nearly nine million disabled Americans.
That was the conclusion of the acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin during a Senate Budget Committee hearing focused on addressing the recent rule change by House Republicans forbidding the Trust from shifting funds within the program for disabled Americans. In answer to a query from Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) about what the consequences are for disabled Americans if the rule change stays in effect, she said a failure by Congress to shore up the Disability Insurance Trust Fund would be deadly for its beneficiaries. Colvin said, “I don’t want to be dramatic, but I’ve worked with this population my whole career. We [would] give them a death sentence.”
Due to the House Republicans’ unilateral “rule change,” the disability fund is projected to be exhausted by the end of 2016, and if Congress fails to correct the Republican rule change beneficiaries will receive a 20 percent cut in benefits. Apparently, the Senate is taking up the issue because lawmakers are divided over how to deal with the shortfall instead of doing what they have done 11 times in the past; reallocate funds from within the Trust.
The acting Commissioner Calvin said that on average, recipients get about $1,200 a month and depend on it for paying rent, buying food and other necessities. $1,200 per month is below the federal poverty line and she noted that at that level people “are barely surviving as it is. If you get a cut there, you’re not going to be able to survive.” Colvin likely fails to realize that warning Republicans that their cuts are a death sentence for disabled Americans will only fuel their lust to kill a small percentage of the 47 percent of the population they regard as moochers and takers; disabled people.
One of the Republicans opposed to Social Security in general, and who instigated the House rule change, Tom Price, said the program needs to be cut due to rampant abuse and fraud; a lie Republicans claim about every social program. However, according to a senior fellow of federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Kathy Ruffing, Republicans like Price who claim Social Security is welfare for cheaters are doing what the GOP does as a matter of course; lying.
Ruffing said, “Republicans in Congress have systematically underfunded those efforts by the Social Security Administration and I think that the critics of the program who like to claim that it is somehow rife with fraud and abuse have a responsibility to document those claims. They are frankly wrong.” Of course they are wrong, and lying, but that is what they do naturally. Expecting them to document a lie is childish. Republicans do not document anything.
These are the same Republicans who are wont to claim Social Security is welfare in their drive to eliminate the program for their benefactors the Koch brothers. It is worth reiterating that the nation’s most popular New Deal program is a primary target of the Kochs who claim Social Security is “fraudulent and increasingly oppressive.” They have been calling for its summary repeal for thirty-five years; Republicans have hated it since its inception.
About 8.9 million people receive disability benefits from the fund and its eligibility guidelines are extremely stringent. First, it is not welfare because beneficiaries must have paid into the program while they worked at least one-quarter of their adult life, and five of the last 10 years. The overwhelming majority of beneficiaries are 55 or older, and many of them die within a few years of first receiving the insurance according to CBPP; many die while they are waiting for a determination that they qualify as disabled that may take 2-3 years and several appeals. About a quarter of recipients are mentally impaired, have muscular or skeletal problems, or suffer from diseases such as diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s disease, congestive heart failure, and cancer; the kind of debilitating infirmities that Republicans claim make recipients frauds, abusers, and takers.
While Democrats are looking for a solution to keep the disability fund solvent now that Republicans eliminated reallocating funds within the Trust, Republicans will oppose keeping the fund solvent using any measure; especially since the Koch brothers bought control of Congress. Ms. Colvin, Democrats, and many pundits have noted and reminded Republicans that Congress previously approved 11 reallocations between the two funds on a regularly bipartisan basis. However, now that the Kochs own both houses of Congress, they intend on imposing their agenda on the nation and any sense of bipartisanship is over because they do not own Democrats…yet.
Now that Senate Democrats are addressing the House GOP action, Republican Kelly Ayotte (NH) spoke for the Koch brothers and said it would be a dire mistake to do what Congress has done on a bipartisan basis 11 times before to preserve the solvency of the fund; and she repeated a favorite Republican phrase to justify the Republican action. She said “Congress would be kicking the can down the road” by trying to find a reasonable solution to what commissioner Colvin said was a ‘death sentence for the disabled.” Republicans want drastic cuts, privatization, raising the retirement age to 75, or following the Koch demand and just repeal what they claim is the “fraudulent and increasingly oppressive” program altogether.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that allowing the trust funds to borrow from each other will not affect either division’s solvency, but that was before Paul Ryan changed the CBO into a “trickle down rubber stamp” for the Koch brothers. President Obama proposed another reallocation in his fiscal 2016 budget last week, but Republicans want “a concrete proposal.” On Wednesday, the ranking member on the Senate Budget panel, Bernie Sanders, offered a very concrete proposal that entails raising Social Security taxes on the wealthy; a proposal Republicans will reject without blinking.
Actually, Senator Sanders’ plan is not really a payroll tax hike, but an equitable solution Republicans typically reject out of hand because it is fair for all Americans. Sanders said, “If Republicans are serious about extending the solvency of Social Security, they will join me in scrapping the cap that allows multi-millionaires to pay a much smaller percentage of their income into Social Security than the middle class.” Any individual earning over $118,500 annually exceeds the cap on Social Security withholding; millionaires pay next to nothing on their incomes. Senator Sanders saying the rich pay a “much smaller percentage” is a gross understatement, but his point is that if every American paid the same percentage, it would extend the solvency of the program into perpetuity including affording the Trust to raise benefits substantially.
However, because the Koch brothers want Social Security abolished, and the GOP rule change forbidding reallocation is just their first step in the hastening program’s demise, there will be no tax hike on the rich. Keeping the Trust solvent is of no interest to Republicans’ and the news that their “new rule” is a death sentence for nine million disabled Americans only adds to their joy at eventually killing the program for the Koch brothers.
Most Americans understand the Republicans’ goal is to kill Social Security, so it was interesting that Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) said that while he questions the GOP’s tactics, he still foolishly holds out hope that the Kochs will allow Republicans to reallocate money to keep the disability program solvent. Rangel said, “It’s really a stain on the reputation of this body. Thank God it doesn’t involve a crime, but it does involve the most gross misuse of political power.” Even if it did involve a crime there would be no consequences for Republicans. If there were consequences for Republican crimes, or gross misuse of political power, John Boehner would be indicted for violating the Logan Act and share manipulation in pushing the KeystoneXL pipeline. The fact that the Republican rule change is a “death sentence” for nine million disabled Americans will likely garner them greater support from their religious right base.