RepublicansSocial Security

The So-Called Balanced Budget Amendment is a Backdoor Attack on Social Security

This week, Paul Ryan announced that he won’t be running for re-election. But true to form, he is attacking Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid one last time on his way out the door.

Today, Ryan and his Republican caucus are voting on a so-called balanced budget amendment (BBA.) While it sounds like a vote for mom and apple pie, every politician who supports it will be voting to cut Social Security.

Ryan and his caucus have so far been thwarted in their efforts to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, because doing so is extremely unpopular. They would love to go after Social Security through the undemocratic reconciliation process, but because Social Security doesn’t add a penny to the deficit, past Congresses have made sure that today’s Republicans can’t cut Social Security through that closed, expedited process. So, enter the BBA.

The BBA sounds to some like a vote for good government. After all, families have to balance their budgets without borrowing, right? Well, no. Families have mortgages and other debt. More importantly, families don’t require a Constitutional amendment to balance their budgets. If Republicans really believed in balanced budgets, they would enact one. A balanced budget amendment is simply a ruse for their desire to force draconian cuts to earned Social Security benefits without facing the wrath of their constituents.

The BBA would require federal spending in any given year to be offset by revenues collected in that same year. In practice, that would force cuts to the earned Social Security benefits now received by over 60 million beneficiaries.

The law requires that Social Security’s surplus – which is currently over $2.8 trillion and growing –be held in trust, segregated from the general fund of the federal government. The BBA would ignore this reality and pretend that Social Security’s $2.8 trillion reserve does not exist.

Those voting for the BBA are voting to, in effect, steal all the past contributions made to Social Security by America’s workers and their employers. They would be voting, in effect, to steal the interest earned on those surplus contributions. They would be voting not only to steal those contributions but to ignore the fact that Social Security’s revenue is dedicated to just one purpose – the payment of Social Security’s earned benefits and related administrative costs.

To repeat, Social Security does not add a penny to the deficit. The program’s funds are wisely kept separate from the rest of the federal budget to protect the American people’s earned benefits. But if the BBA becomes law, that separation would end. Social Security’s benefits would be cut to offset other costs, including the $1.5 trillion tax handout that Republicans just gave to billionaires and corporations. Indeed, that is the true purpose of the BBA. Republicans don’t care about balancing budgets, but they do care about transferring wealth from the most vulnerable people in our society to the wealthiest among us.

We know this because they have been attempting to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for years. Throughout his career, soon-to-be former Speaker Ryan has supported voucherizing Medicare, privatizing Social Security, and block granting Medicaid. This is jargon for ending all three programs. Immediately after passing the tax giveaway to the wealthy, Ryan told radio host Ross Kaminsky that “we’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform,” His pejorative label for three extremely invaluable, well-designed programs.

Unfortunately for Ryan, voters of all political affiliations strenuously oppose his plans to gut their earned benefits. They want political leaders who will fight to expand Social Security and Medicare benefits, not cut them. That means that any politician who votes for benefit cuts is very likely voting themselves out of office. Social Security is known as the third rail for very good reason!

For Ryan and his caucus, the appeal of the BBA is that it’s a sneaky backdoor way to cut benefits while avoiding political accountability. They already starved our government’s general revenue with their tax scheme. By using the BBA to cut Social Security off from its dedicated trust fund they can force cuts to happen without leaving their fingerprints. If the BBA were to become law, cuts would follow,  probably  automatically, without the need for even another vote .

The good news for Social Security beneficiaries is that Congress is unlikely to pass the BBA this year. It requires the support of two-thirds of both the House and Senate, which the GOP does not currently control. But the mere fact that the majority of Republicans are likely to vote for this abomination of a bill is bad enough. It is a frightening preview of what will happen if they are able to maintain or even strengthen their majority this November: Relentless attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and every function of government that benefits working and middle class Americans.

A vote for the BBA is a vote to raid the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. It is a vote to end the promise of Social Security, which workers have relied on for over eighty years. It is a vote that says to the American people, in the strongest possible terms, that they should throw the thieves out of office this November.

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Nancy Altman and Linda Benesch

Nancy Altman is President of Social Security Works. Linda Benesch is Communications Director.
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