In-Depth: Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) introduced this bill to establish a bipartisan commission to make recommendations for ensuring Social Security’s solvency in the future. In a blog post on his congressional website, Rep. Cole wrote:
“[T]o make real progress toward tackling our burden of debt, tough decisions and careful solutions are required. But the solutions must include reforms to save and sustain the mandatory programs serving many vulnerable Americans. I believe a good place to start would be passage of legislation I introduced again this Congress, the Bipartisan Social Security Commission Act. The bill calls for a bipartisan and bicameral commission tasked with recommending reforms to ensure Social Security is solvent for at least 75 years. Congress would then be required to vote up or down on the commission’s recommendations within 60 legislative days. The legislation is modeled after the successful approach taken by former House Speaker Tip O’Neill and supported by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, when Social Security was also on the brink of bankruptcy. At that time, bipartisan legislation was approved to stabilize and improve the fiscal foundation of Social Security. And the resulting legislation not only received widespread public support, it extended the life of Social Security. If history is any indication, I believe what worked before to save Social Security can work again—if both parties commit to pursuing reforms in a thoughtful, fair and bipartisan manner.”
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), Third Way, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation expressed their support for this bill in 2014. In a letter to bill sponsors Reps. John Delaney (D-MD) and Tom Cole (R-OK), the coalition wrote:
“There is widespread recognition across the political spectrum that Social Security, on its current path, will be unable to pay full benefits to disabled beneficiaries in 2016 and to reitred and survivors of American workers in 2035 (2033 under a combined Trust Funds scenario. For many American families, these would be catastrophic events. Moreover, allowing such possibilites to loom undermines a core purpose of Social Security: providing certainty and stability. That is why we are so pleased that you have introduced The Social Security Commission Act of 2014 (HR 4786). We understand that some may be way of another commission. But Social Security’s last major fix, in 1983, was made possible by a commission, chaired by Alan Greenspan. Your legislation offers a transparent, inclusive, and politically viable path to a balance solvency plan and a filibuster-proof up-or-down vote. Further, enacting a commission to fix Social Security would demonstrate the Congress is serious about protecting the middle class and making progress on our country’s most pressing issues.”
When this bill was introduced in the 115th Congress as the Social Security Commission Act of 2017, CREDO Action and Social Security Works opposed it as a “sneak attack on Social Security”:
“A handful of conservative Democrats in Congress are teaming up with right-wing Republicans to sneak through legislation that would slash our Social Security benefits… The Social Security Commission Act of 2017 would establish a 13-member commission, made up of seven Republicans and six Democrats, tasked with developing a proposal for ensuring Social Security’s solvency for the next 75 years. Congressional leaders would then fast-track the commission’s proposal without amendments, with limited debate and with only a simple majority’s approval in the Senate. The purpose of this sham commission is to justify and jam through cuts to Social Security benefits.”
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare opposes this bill’s approach:
“[We believe] that the approach proposed in [this bill] would circumvent a deliberative and public process, limiting the participation of Social Security stakeholders and advocates in the debate. The Committees of jurisdiction should hold hearings, develop legislation and vote on the consensus package that they develop under the regular rules of the House and Senate. Adhering to regular order, while perhaps more challenging for legislators, would ensure that the public has an opportunity to express their overwhelming support for Social Security. It is important to recall that Social Security does not face a crisis in funding. Its trust funds hold over $2.85 trillion in assets that, along with its dedicated stream of payroll tax revenue, are sufficient to ensure payment of all benefits due for more than 17 years. The real crisis, unmentioned in [this bill], is the growing number of working and middle-class Americans who depend on Social Security for all or most of their income in retirement. To prevent millions of older Americans from falling into poverty, Social Security benefits should be improved rather than cut. A more deliberative approach involving Congress and the American people would take this reality into consideration and is therefore a better way to address Social Security’s finances and benefit inadequacy than a commission process designed to muzzle debate against unpopular benefit cuts.”
This bill doesn’t have any cosponsors in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, then-Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), who’s now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, introduced this bill as the Social Security Commission Act of 2017 with the support of five bipartisan cosponsors, including four Republicans and one Democrat, and it didn’t receive a committee vote. Rep. Delaney (D-MD) first introduced this bill in May 2014 (in the 113th Congress). At that time, the bill’s title was the Social Security Commission Act of 2014, and it had seven bipartisan cosponsors, including four Democrats and three Republicans and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: The 1981 National Commission on Social Security, referenced by supporters of this bill as the model for its proposed commission, was created by Congress in December 1977. It was charged with undertaking a “fundamental, long-term, comprehensive consideration for change in the entire Social Security system." The commission had nine bipartisan members and issued its final report in March 1981. In that report, the commission concluded that the Social Security system was “sound in principle” and “the best structure of income support for the United States."
Today, Social Security is widely regarded as unsustainable, as future obligations are projected to exceed future revenue. The Concord Coalition says:
“[A]s currently structured, Social Security is on an unsustainable path and already pays out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes. The program faces large, automatic cuts in less than two decades if policymakers do nothing. That would mean lower income for retirees and a major disruption to the economy."
Multiple proposals to return Social Security to sustainability have been raised over the years. They include: raising taxes, cutting benefits, encouraging higher personal saving rates, changing the eligibility rules, and raising the retirement age. However, due to the contentiousness of the debate over Social Security changes, none of these proposals have been enacted.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / GetUpStudio)