On Monday, President Obama unveiled his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal. Obama’s budget outlined a wide range of proposals likely to be popular with middle-class Americans, and unpopular with Congressional Republicans. Progressives concerned about the President buckling to GOP pressure to weaken social security can also take comfort. The White House appears determined to stand firm on protecting social security retirement and disability funding. Obama’s budget proposes clean reallocation of funds from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund to the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund.
This clean reallocation would put Obama at odds with GOP House leaders, especially Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price. Price, and other GOP leaders, have signaled their intent to pit retirees against the disabled. The conflict between the two groups could be stirred up, to force a crisis over Social Security, which Republican lawmakers could then exploit to push privatization schemes.
The White House provided a vigorous defense for social security in Monday’s budget proposal, arguing:
The President believes that Social Security is indispensable to workers, retirees, survivors, and people with disabilities and that it is one of the most important and successful programs ever established in the United States. Although current forecasts indicate that Social Security can pay full benefits until 2033, the Administration is committed to making sure that the program is solvent and viable for the American people, now and in the future, and the President has laid out key principles to achieve this objective. Any reforms should strengthen retirement security for the most vulnerable, including low-income seniors, and should maintain robust disability and survivors’ benefits that protect workers and their families after they have paid into the system. The administration will oppose any measures that privatize or weaken the Social Security system and will not accept an approach that slashes benefits for future generations or reduces basic benefits for current beneficiaries.
To address reserve depletion of the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund, the Budget proposes to reallocate existing payroll tax collections between the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and DI trust funds while a longer term solution to overall Social Security solvency is developed with the Congress. At various points over the course of Social Security’s history, Congress has passed reallocation legislation as the need arose for reallocating revenue from DI to OASI, and vice versa. This proposed reallocation will have no effect on the overall health of the OASI and DI trust funds on a combined basis and is critical to ensuring that workers who have paid into the Social Security system and become disabled get the benefits they need.
In doing so, President Obama has declared that he intends to fight for both retirees and the disabled. He has dropped the gauntlet, and let Republicans know that he has no intention of weakening the program for either retirees or those on SSI disability. The program, as it currently exists, is solvent until at least 2033. Raising the cap on taxes for high-income social security earners would make it solvent for much longer. There is no reason to curtail existing benefits. Nor is there any logical reason to cut disability benefits. Republicans hope to generate a social security crisis, but President Obama has declared that he has no desire to indulge them in their privatization fantasies.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.