Brown: Republican Leaders Must Abandon Dangerous New Rule That Undermines Social Security

In Letter to Senate Leadership, Brown Joined Colleagues Condemning Recently Passed House Rule That Would Undermine All of Social Security by Preventing Clean Rebalancing of Payroll Taxes to Fund Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined members of Senate Democratic leadership in a letter to Republican leadership condemning a recently passed rule by the House of Representatives that would undermine all of Social Security by attacking Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The letter called on Leader McConnell to abandon the highly partisan rule that would prevent the House of Representatives from passing clean reallocations of the Social Security Trust Fund. Last week, Brown was the first senator to speak out on this dangerous rule change.

“This highly partisan rule is an attempt by House leadership to undermine the bedrock of Social Security,” Brown said. “By preventing a clean reallocation of the Social Security Trust Fund, Republican leaders want to pit retirees and beneficiaries with disabilities against each other to help erode this critical social safety net.  I urge Leader McConnell to take the high road and abandon this effort, and instead work to find a bipartisan solution to address the long-term needs of the trust fund.”

The House rule change would prevent a clean reallocation of the Social Security Trust Fund. Reallocation is a simple procedure used by Congress to rebalance how Social Security payroll tax revenues are apportioned between the two trust funds - the equivalent of transferring money from a checking to a savings account.  Reallocation is commonsense, bipartisan policy that has been utilized by both parties 11 times since 1957– most recently in 1994. At that time, it was projected that reallocation would keep the trust fund solvent through 2016.

In July, Brown attended a Senate Finance Committee hearing to examine SSDI and its importance to the entire Social Security system. The hearing was entitled “Social Security: A Fresh Look at Workers’ Disability Insurance.” That same month, Brown delivered a keynote speech on SSDI at the Center for American Progress (CAP) where he outlined future threats that Social Security faces from those who seek to privatize and cut the program. Brown warned how undermining SSDI represents an effort to siphon public support from the entire Social Security program and urged Social Security advocates to organize to prevent detractors from “dividing and conquering” the program.

With more than a third of Social Security beneficiaries being non-retirees, SSDI now more than ever needs to be protected. SSDI is one of our nation’s most successful insurance programs and helps:

  • 8.9 million disabled workers;
  • 1.9 million children;
  • 1 million veterans; and,
  • 4.4 million women.

Further, SSDI is the sole source of income for one in every three beneficiaries. Without SSDI, half of all beneficiaries would be below the poverty line.

In December, Brown announced that he will introduce the Strengthening Social Security Act – championed by retired U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). The bill would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund, which nearly two in three Americans rely on for at least half of their income in old age.

Brown’s prepared opening remarks from the July hearing on SSDI can be found here.

The letter to Leader McConnell can be seen below.

Dear Leader McConnell et al:

This week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives took an unprecedented step toward cutting Social Security benefits for millions of Americans with disabilities, including veterans and children. As you consider what legislation Congress must pass this year, and how to maintain good governance of the United States Senate, we ask you not to pursue this highly partisan rule change.

We are deeply concerned that the rule change in the House will impact millions of Social Security beneficiaries.  According to its actuaries, the Social Security Disability Trust Fund will be unable to pay full disability benefits starting as early as 2016, meaning that legislative action will be necessary to protect the benefits of nearly 11 million Americans. Instead of taking responsible action to address this issue, House Republicans acted according to their extreme ideology and put these benefits at risk by adopting a legislative rule change that creates a point of order against simple bipartisan technical corrections (called reallocations) to adjust the financing of the Social Security Disability Trust Fund.

This move is a particularly audacious in light of the fact that past reallocations have been commonplace and bipartisan.  In fact, Congress has reallocated taxes between the Social Security retirement and disability trust funds 11 times before, in both directions, when it was needed to put either program on stronger footing.

The last reallocation occurred in 1994 and was passed without opposition by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. After that reallocation, it was projected that the Disability Trust Fund would be depleted in 2016 – so the need to adjust the trust fund’s financing is not a surprise or cause for alarm.  There were no accusations of mismanagement then, or the 4 times it was used under President Reagan, because this country has traditionally managed Social Security as a whole.  It is cynical to try and pit retirees and beneficiaries with disabilities against each other, as the House Republican rule change attempts to do.

An earnest debate on how to improve the solvency of the Social Security Trust Funds is needed, and we look forward to working together to find bipartisan solutions. However, House Republicans have eliminated a common sense action to ensure that Americans with disabilities who receive Social Security benefits are held harmless as Congress debates that issue.

Holding hostage the Social Security benefits of any American, particularly those of the 9 million Americans with disabilities who are at risk in the coming years, is an untenable proposition.  It only increases the chances of yet another unnecessary manufactured crisis, akin to shutting down the government or threatening the full faith and credit of the United States. We ask that you speak out and forcibly reject the House Republican rule in order to take this reckless concept off the table and ensure Americans with disabilities that they can count on their government to act responsibly.



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