Nancy Pelosi will be prepared to beat back a run on Social Security or Medicare if the deficit commission recommends cuts to the popular entitlement program following the November election. The House Speaker deliberately avoided appointing House chairmen with jurisdiction over Social Security and Medicare to President Obama's commission, House staffers involved with the commission tell HuffPost, so that she could retain the option to sidetrack the panel's recommendations.
Pelosi appointed Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.), Rep. Jan Schakowski (D-Ill.) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Becerra is a member of Pelosi's leadership and a close ally. Schakowsky is also a progressive ally of Pelosi's.
If the commission recommends cuts to Social Security or Medicare, the Speaker would have the option of referring the recommendations to the Ways and Means Committee. None of the chairs of the committees or subcommittees with jurisdiction over Social Security or Medicare are on the deficit panel.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over Social Security and health care, is on the panel, as is Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), though Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the Health, Education, & Labor Committee, is not on the panel.
Pelosi worried Social Security advocates earlier this year by bringing a resolution to the floor indicating that it was the sense of the House that the panel's recommendations get an up or down vote. The resolution is not binding.
Pelosi, in an interview Tuesday with HuffPost said that if the commission tried to balance the budget by raising the Social Security retirement age "it would get a very negative response."
Pelosi said that there was no chance that Social Security would be cut during the lame-duck session. "No. Here's the thing. It's really important to make this distinction," she said. "There are two things happening here: We have a big deficit, so people say, 'Well, we're going to change Social Security to help the deficit.' They have nothing to do with each other directly."
Social Security advocates have objected to the inclusion of the entitlement program in the deficit commission's deliberations, because the program is fully paid for through 2037. "If you want to look at any provisions of Social Security, it has to relate to Social Security. It can't go over to this column to pay for tax cuts for the rich. They're two different subjects," she said. "If Social Security is solvent and has a lot of money in the trust fund, that's a good thing for our fiscal stability. But it isn't a way to bail out two unpaid-for wars, tax cuts for the rich that brought us nothing in terms of our economy and job creation, and some of the other initiatives [related to] tax breaks, people sending jobs overseas and the rest of it."
The commission is considering recommending increasing the retirement age, which would constitute an across-the-board cut and would be unfair to seniors, Pelosi said.
"How can you say to seniors, 'You're going to have to work longer.' Now, mind you, it's okay for me to work to 70--no heavy lifting, no outdoor work. But it's not okay for laborers to work to 70. It's all relative. But you're going to [be forced to] work to 70, no matter what, so we can give a tax cut to the richest people in America? Something is missing in this picture, and if they tried to do that I think it would get a very negative response," she said.
"Let's hope they're thinking in a more fair way about how to go forward. I have no idea," said Pelosi. "I do know I have confidence in the people I named to the commission." And the ones she didn't.