WASHINGTON -- As congressional Republicans push a wish-list budget that would dramatically cut government safety net programs, their Democratic counterparts are jumping on a bill to expand Social Security benefits and shore up the program's finances.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, endorsed the legislation at a press conference Tuesday.
"You don't save Social Security by cutting Social Security," said Van Hollen, who previously endorsed a proposal that would trim Social Security benefits and is currently campaigning for a Senate seat in Maryland.
The Democrats' legislation, introduced this week by Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), would expand benefits by giving retirees and disabled workers larger annual cost-of-living increases, and would improve the program's finances through higher taxes. Social Security's retirement insurance program has a $2.6 trillion trust fund that will be depleted by 2035, with projected incoming payroll taxes at that point only enough to cover roughly 80 percent of scheduled benefits.
Currently, only the first $118,000 of a worker's wages are subject to Social Security payroll taxes. The Democrats' legislation would shore up the trust fund for the next 75 years, largely by imposing the tax on incomes above $400,000.
"While Americans cherish the vital benefits of Social Security, there are still those who don't believe it's going to be there for them," said Larson, who introduced the same bill in the previous Congress. "The benefits are not only going to be here, but they will be enhanced."
Republicans, for their part, are planning legislation to reform the smaller disability insurance program within Social Security, which serves about 10 million Americans and is expected to run out of money next year. Though they haven't yet announced a proposal, House Republicans passed a rule earlier this year that would prevent Congress from diverting payroll taxes from the retirement insurance program to the disability insurance program to prevent a disability benefit cut next year. Instead, Republicans want Democrats to agree to some kind of yet-to-be determined reform to disability insurance, which the GOP has characterized as rampant with fraud.
On Tuesday, House Republicans outlined a comprehensive budget proposal that would repeal Obamacare, transform Medicare and severely restrict much of the rest of the safety net -- but the budget mostly left Social Security alone. Instead, House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) suggested punting the issue to a commission.
"Truly what’s needed is a long-term solution to the problems facing Social Security," Price's budget proposal says. "One such proposal would be a bipartisan commission that would be required to study the structural deficiencies within the current Social Security system and report back with specific legislative proposals for Congress and the President to consider."
Despite concerns about the federal budget deficit, Republicans have vowed to avoid any tax increases, so the Larson bill is a non-starter for them.