Legislative Update: March 2015

Legislative Update: March 2015

Will Budget Negotiators Propose Cutting COLAs Again?

Jessie Gibbons, Legislative Assistant

With the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund set to become insolvent by the end of next year, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) believes the new Congress may pass legislation to create another Social Security reform commission – one that could propose significant changes to the program.

Last year, a leading legislator – Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) – pushed for the creation of an eighteen-member task force that would have had six months to come up with a plan to restore both the disability and retirement programs’ solvency for the next seventy-five years. If his commission had reached an agreement, its proposal would have been put on a fast track through both chambers of Congress for votes with no amendments and limited debate. Sen. Durbin’s plan failed to gain traction last year, but with the program’s financing growing more dire, he will likely advocate for similar legislation once again in the 114th Congress.

If lawmakers do approve the creation of another Social Security commission, beneficiaries could expect to see major benefit modifications proposed. Past task forces like the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – also known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission – proposed the following changes: increasing the age of eligibility for Social Security to sixty-nine, adopting the “chained” CPI for the calculation of cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), increasing the cap on income subject to the payroll tax, covering newly hired state and local government workers, and enhancing benefits for those over the age of eighty-five.

While a few of the commission’s proposed changes, including the boost in benefits for the oldest seniors, could benefit some Social Security enrollees, others – like the adoption of the “chained” CPI – would result in decreased benefits across the board.

Of the five reform options mentioned above, only one of them – the adoption of the “chained” CPI – has gained broad bipartisan support over the past five years. President Obama included the change in a recent budget blueprint, and House Republicans have been including it in their budget proposals for many years. TSCL fears that if a new Social Security reform commission is created, the “chained” CPI could be used as a key bargaining chip in the negotiations.

So far, grassroots efforts by TSCL members and supporters have been successful in stopping the adoption of the “chained” CPI, but a renewed effort will be needed in the 114th Congress in order to stave off COLA cuts. In the coming months, TSCL will continue to inform both new and veteran lawmakers about the dangers of cutting benefits, and we will be sure to keep a close eye on legislation that would create a new Social Security commission.

In the meantime, we encourage our members and supporters to complete the 2015 Senior Survey, which will help our legislative team decide which reform efforts we should support and oppose in the 114th Congress. You can find the survey on our website, at www.SeniorsLeague.org.