Any lawmaker who so much as thinks about tinkering with Social Security anytime in the next decade will have to go through Harry Reid (and a few of his friends) first.
A handful of liberal Democratic senators pushed back against calls from Republicans and even fellow Democrats to reform the national pension system during a rally on Capitol Hill Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada joined Sens. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent, Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, and Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, at a “Hands Off Social Security” rally where all of them insisted that Social Security — the nation’s largest program that costs about $700 billion a year — adds nothing to the deficit or debt.
“Back off Social Security,” Reid told a cheering crowd. “It’s in great shape for many decades. Let’s worry about Social Security when it’s a problem. Today it is not a problem.”
“Social Security has nothing to do with reducing the deficit,” Franken added. “Social Security benefits should not be cut at all, for anyone, as part of efforts to reduce the deficit.”
The rally wouldn’t be the first time Reid held firm against efforts to change the program. Last fall, 11 senators signed a letter spearheaded by Sanders and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown to strike down any efforts to tinker with the program. More recently, the Senate majority leader said in an MSNBC interview earlier this month that he won’t be willing to examine ways to reform Social Security for “two decades.”
But not everyone in the Democratic caucus agrees that the program couldn’t use some improvement.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota said recently that the program “faces a long-term funding challenge,” and “the sooner we address these challenges, the better.”
“The American people say, don’t touch Social Security, don’t touch Medicare, don’t cut defense,” Conrad said in a recent interview with Christiane Amanpour on ABC’s “This Week.” “That’s 84 percent of the federal budget. If you can’t touch 84 percent of the federal budget — and, by the way, they also don’t want to touch revenue — you’re down to 16 percent of the budget at a time we’re borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend.”
Earlier this month, 32 Senate Democrats joined an equal number of Republicans in a letter sent to President Obama calling on him to consider including entitlement programs in plans to lower the federal government’s $1.4 trillion budget deficit. (The letter, which was signed by Franken, Harkin, Blumenthal, did not mention Social Security by name.)
The firm positions of the senators at the rally could even put them at odds with some economic advisers at the White House, including Treasury Dept. Secretary Tim Geithner, who The Hill newspaper reported is open to implementing reforms to the New Deal-era program. The White House has said that it does not support the kinds of cuts Republican lawmakers support, including raising the age for those receiving benefits and other reforms.
House Republicans will release their own budget within the next few months, and GOP leaders have vowed that the final version will include changes to entitlement programs, including Social Security, although details at this point are scarce. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican leading the charge to revamp Social Security, called Social Security “the best thing government ever did” in an interview earlier this month, adding that Republicans will “absolutely…put entitlement reforms in this budget.”