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January 2011, Week 2

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Will the Debt Ceiling Vote Take Social Security
Hostage?

By National Committee to Preserve Social Security and
Medicare (NCPSSM)
Entitled to Know
January 7, 2011

http://www.ncpssm.org/entitledtoknow/?p=1509

In a few short months, Congress will have to vote to
raise the federal debt ceiling limit. This is a
critical measure that must pass so the U.S. can borrow
money to pay interest on what it already owes investors
or to fund new spending. Treasury Secretary Timothy
Geithner said in a letter to Congress Thursday that
even a short-term default could be "catastrophic." It
would drive up interest rates and cause stock market
and housing prices to plummet making future government
borrowing more expensive.

    "Failure to increase the limit would be deeply
    irresponsible," Mr. Geithner wrote, and added: "It
    is important to emphasize that changing the debt
    limit does not alter or increase the obligations we
    have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to
    fund those obligations Congress has already
    established" - under presidents and Congresses of
    both parties.

Although this vote should be a no-brainer, some
Republicans in the House of Representatives and the
Senate, say they will not vote for this increase unless
spending cuts are offered. To be specific, they want
cuts in Social Security. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
made his intentions clear on NBC's Meet the Press:

    This is an opportunity to make sure the government
    is changing its spending ways. I will not vote for
    the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in
    place that will deal with our long-term debt
    obligations starting with Social Security, a real
    bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security
    stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means-
    tests for benefits.

Although some will frame their proposed changes to
Social Security as necessary "reform" to make Social
Security solvent, one has to question why they are
pushing for these changes now, when Social Security is
$2.6 trillion in surplus. What's even more concerning
is the increasing bipartisan support so cut Social
Security. Even Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee,
Sen.  Kent Conrad (D-ND), has signaled he would like to
see deficit reduction and Social Security changes like
the cuts offered in the National Commission on Fiscal
Responsibility and Reform co-chair proposal. These cuts
include raising the retirement age, reducing COLA and
means testing benefits for middle income Americans.
Although these are harmful proposals that would
undermine Social Security, Conrad recently wrote an
OpEd for Politico, praising these "reforms:"

    Savings in Social Security were used only for
    extending the program's solvency - not for deficit
    reduction. And critical provisions were added to
    strengthen the safety net and protect the most
    vulnerable seniors and the disabled. The
    commission's work demonstrates that it is possible
    to both bolster the Social Security safety net and
    restore the program's trust funds to sustainable
    solvency over the long run, says Conrad.

This bipartisan effort to reduce the deficit with all
spending on the table, including Social Security and
Medicare, has also been picked up by a group of
Senators who meet behind closed doors. Sen. Saxby
Chambliss (R-GA) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) have
spearheaded this effort, reiterating no program is safe
from cuts:

    Both Chambliss and Warner say nothing is off-limits
    as they consider ways to fix the federal budget -
    including possible increases in the Social Security
    retirement age, cuts in Medicare benefits and a
    complete overhaul of the federal tax code.

With so much at stake, it's important we make our
voices loud and clear on this issue. Americans of all
ages and political parties reject Social Security cuts.
We need to remind our representatives in Congress and
the Senate that Social Security is a promise to the
American people that should not be broken. Send an E-
card to leaders in the Senate and House, "Hands off
Social Security!" or send a letter "Social Security Did
Not Cause Our Budget Mess" through our legislative
action center.

___________________________________________

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