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The new 114th Congress, sworn in just yesterday,included in its rules a measure that appears designed to force an ugly and wholly unnecessary showdown over Social Security in 2016. For the voters have spoken, and they demand more ugly, unnecessary showdowns!


Every new Congress passes a new set of rules for proposing and debating legislation, raising points of order, getting a hall pass to make a tinkle, and so on. Normally this is done without much fanfare or controversy, but not this time!

Here's what's up: Social Security's Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund is on track to run short of money in 2016, causing a 19% to 20% reduction in benefits for disabled Americans. A routine reallocation of funds from the Old Age and Survivor's Insurance hoard would keep both programs solvent until 2033, according to Kathy Ruffing the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and we'll all be long dead by then anyway. So what's the big deal?

The big deal is that this is an opportunity to force an ugly, unnecessary showdown, remember? The new rule adopted by the 114th Congress says that they simply CANNOT do a routine reallocation, like they've done 11 times before, unless it also "improves the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds," which according to Democrats (and cognitively normal humans in general) means "either new revenues or benefit cuts for current or future beneficiaries."

We're going to go out on a rather stout limb here and predict that "new revenues" aren't going to be part of the GOP's fix for the Social Security "crisis" that might happen in 18 years if they just reallocated the funds like they should. But we were curious about how much it would cost to fix the 2016 DI shortfall with new revenues alone. We did it quick and dirty and figured out that if everyone who's currently employed in the United States paid five bucks more a week into DI for a year, the 20% shortfall in benefit payments from DI Trust Fund ($28 billion, near as we can figure) would be erased with about $12 billion bucks left over. Obviously we wouldn't do it that way, but it does give you some sense of how relatively easy this would be to fix without altering benefits.

But because disabled people are not useful for transporting crude oil or manufacturing weapons, the GOP is skeptical of spending a dime more on supporting them than is absolutely politically cynically necessary. It appears they're betting that disabled people all vote Democrat anyway, and even if they don't, the GOP will gain more by portraying themselves as the guardians of the real honest American Social Security program against the less numerous, morally suspect "disabled" "folks."

It's just crazy and despicable enough to work! Or it could backfire spectacularly, GOP popularity could crater, and the party will make historic gains in the next election anyway.

On the bright side, uh, something?

[TPM / CBPP / BLS]

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