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Supercommittee Eyes Social Security Cuts

November 1, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Remember the budget reconciliation process that Republicans were so outraged about when the Democrats used it to pass their health care bill? Well, the supercommittee is a lot like budget reconciliation, only much more powerful.

The reconciliation process basically provides a way for a congressional majority to pass one bill per year that affects budget issues without having to overcome a filibuster. However, reconciliation bills can be amended on the floor and are subject to strict Byrd Rule restrictions — if anything in a reconciliation bill is found to violate the restrictions, it gets taken out by the Senate Parliamentarian.

The supercommittee bill will have even stronger protections. It can’t be filibustered or amended on the floor, and, most importantly, there are no restrictions on what can be included in it. Five of the six Byrd-Rule restrictions are about ensuring that reconciliation bills are actually relevant to budgetary matters.The sixth, however, is about protecting Social Security. Nothing that recommends changes in Social Security can be done through budget reconciliations. Since the Byrd Rules were enacted by Congress in 1985, any legislation affecting Social Security has been filibusterable — until now.

As a critical deadline for the supercommittee nears, Social Security appears to be on the negotiating table.

In private conversations, and now in public, the idea of changing the social program as part of a deficit-reduction deal is gaining some traction — a move that has been politically unthinkable for years. […]

In a brief interview with POLITICO on Monday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the co-chair of the panel, said she was “not going to talk about the details of any package, but I can tell you that everybody on the committee is serious about finding a way forward.”

Asked specifically about Social Security, Murray said, “Everything is on the table, and we’ve made no decisions.” […]

This is on top of proposals inside the panel. Last week saw a slew of plans put forth by Democrats and Republicans on the supercommittee. Democrats unveiled a plan that would cut the deficit by roughly $3 trillion, which was declared not “serious” by Republicans because of $1.3 trillion in new tax-based revenue — their plan did include changes to Social Security. Republicans rolled out a $2.2 trillion plan, which generates $640 billion in nontax revenue. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have discussed a $1.2 trillion plan, and changes to Social Security alongside it could show they are reaching for a broader scope.

According to the report, the supercommittee is looking at changing how cost of living for serious is calculated in a way that will lead to lower benefit levels year after year.

This is just another reason why the public needs fair access to the supercommittee. While corporations get special access to the supercommittee so they can protect their interests, the public at large is shut out while the entitlement benefits, which are solvent and don’t add to the deficit, are cut as if they are the cause of all our country’s woes.

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