Could Social Security Cuts be closer than We Think?

That's the question Brian Beutler over at Talking Points Memo raises this morning while reporting on the possibility of a bipartisan consensus on scaling back Social Security benefits materializing in Congress. Recognizing that such a proposal is usually "the third rail of American politics," Beutler lays out the not-impossible scenario of deficit-weary members of Congress sacrificing the relatively solvent entitlement program of Social Security before the alter of fiscal austerity.

That House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) would welcome reducing Social Security benefits is nothing new – he recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as much – but the fact that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) have indicated that they are open to it as well has "progressives feeling queasy."

Scissors Beat Paper

The one ray of hope that this bipartisan coalition won't congeal in the House is Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is "not nearly as enthusiastic as her colleagues." According to Beutler, "Though she has left the possibility of raising the retirement age on the table...she disagrees with putting Social Security on the chopping block ahead of other measures."

Of course, Pelosi's opposition might not matter now that the House will force itself to consider any fiscal reform plan produced by the president's fiscal commission and approved by the Senate. Democrats included a rider to the supplemental war spending bill/budget enforcement resolution passed last week saying as much, and the likelihood of Social Security cuts being included in the commission's plan seems high.

And there's your path to Social Security cuts occurring "swiftly, with very little notice." The chances of this scenario playing out are not great. Nothing seems to be able to pass the Senate these days. But that doesn't mean it can't happen.

The apprehension among progressives that the fiscal commission will recommend Social Security cuts in their reform plan is palpable enough that it brought out scores of organizations for the commission's public hearing that urged the panel not touch the entitlement program. And, as Beutler points out, [I]f there's a fluke, or an unexpected decision on the part of 60 senators to hold hands and jump together," Boehner might just get his wish in the House.

Image by Flickr user BOSSoNe0013 used under a Creative Commons license.

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