In yet another in an endless string of commission proposals, H. R. 1578, the “Social Security Commission Act of 2015,” introduced by Representatives John Delaney (D–MD) and Tom Cole (R–OK) targets Social Security for “reform.” This time, the task would be delegated to a “Commission on Long Term Solvency,” made up of 13 members appointed variously by the President and the leadership of the House of Representatives and the Senate.1
Specifically, the commission is charged with making recommendations for achieving solvency of the Social Security trust funds for 75 years. The bill does not specify how this solvency is to be achieved, thus opening the Social Security program to whatever broad array of across-the-board cuts that the commission may choose to propose.
The commission would have one year in which to develop its recommendations and to submit its report to Congress. The Committees of jurisdiction over the Social Security program — the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Ways and Means — would have only limited input in the development of the Commission’s recommendations.
Given that the House and Senate Democratic and Republican leadership would appoint individuals to serve on the commission, most members would likely be members of Congress. H. R. 1578 would require that two of the congressional appointees be non-elected experts. While an expert could be affiliated with a stakeholders’ advocacy group, there is no specific requirement that stakeholders/advocates be appointed to the commission.
And, to further limit public opportunities to participate in this process, H. R. 1578 includes a set of “fast track” procedural rules for consideration of the Commission’s recommendations by the Congress. Under these rules, the legislation embodying the Commission’s recommendations would be considered by Congress on an expedited, “take-it-or-leave-it” basis. No amendments to the Commission’s bill could be offered and it could be passed in both the House and Senate by a simple majority vote. Normally, Senate rules require 60 votes to approve legislation which changes Social Security.
The National Committee believes that the approach proposed in H. R. 1578 would circumvent a deliberative and public process, limiting the participation of Social Security stakeholders and advocates in the debate.
The Committees of jurisdiction should hold hearings, develop legislation and vote on the consensus package that they develop under the regular rules of the House and Senate. Adhering to regular order, while perhaps more challenging for legislators, would ensure that the public has an opportunity to express their overwhelming support for Social Security.
It is important to recall that Social Security does not face a crisis in funding. Its trust funds hold $2.79 trillion in assets that, along with its dedicated stream of payroll tax revenue, are sufficient to ensure payment of all benefits due for more than 18 years. The real crisis unmentioned in H. R. 1578 is the growing number of working and middle-class Americans who depend on Social Security for all or most of their income in retirement. To prevent millions of older Americans from falling into poverty, Social Security benefits should be improved rather than cut. A more deliberative approach involving Congress and the American people would take this reality into consideration and is therefore a better way to address Social Security’s finances and benefit inadequacy than a commission process designed to muzzle debate against unpopular benefit cuts.
1The commission established by H. R. 1578 would be made up of 13 members. Of those members, one would be appointed by the President; three would be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; three would be appointed by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives; three would be appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate; and three would be appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate.
The panel would be charged with developing and transmitting to Congress a special message that includes recommendations and proposed legislation for achieving solvency in each of the Social Security trust funds for at least 75 years. The commission would have one year in which to complete its work.
At least nine members must vote for the commission report as a condition for the recommendations to be considered by Congress as legislation under expedited procedures.
Government Relations and Policy Department, March 2016