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Republicans are once again threatening to drag Social Security into the process of raising the federal debt limit. Congress must raise the limit soon in order for the U.S. to meet its financial obligations. But Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Bloomberg today that he wouldn’t support raising the debt limit unless special commissions were established to “reform” Social Security and Medicare (translation: “cut benefits”). Senator Graham tried a similar ploy ten years ago when the debt ceiling needed to be raised:

“This is an opportunity to make sure the government is changing its spending ways. I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long-term debt obligations starting with Social Security.” – Sen. Lindsey Graham, 2011

This was a red herring then, and it still is today. Social Security is self-funded and does not impact the federal debt. But ‘fiscal hawks’ like to conflate it with the debt issue in order to try to cut a program they have opposed since the beginning, despite its broad popularity among the American public. In fact, the main drivers of the debt are ‘tax expenditures’ (revenue the federal government forgoes through tax breaks and tax cuts benefitting mostly the wealthy and big corporations). Republicans passed the Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017 with little regard for its impact on the debt, under the false promise that it would create jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calls GOP obstruction on the debt limit “shameless, cynical and totally political.”

“Schumer said Republicans did not raise such concerns during the presidency of Republican Donald Trump and that some of the debt is related to emergency aid in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” – Reuters, 7/21/21

Nevertheless, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell predicts that “not a single Republican” will vote to raise the debt limit this year, citing Democrats’ plans to spend trillions on infrastructure, even though the money owed by the federal government is for past – not future – spending.

“Leader McConnell should not be playing political games with the full faith and credit of the United States,” said Schumer. “Americans pay their debts.”

In the past, Republicans have shut down the federal government over fiscal impasses like this one. Democratic leaders are pondering their options for raising the debt limit without Republican votes, taking seriously Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s warning that the United States could risk defaulting on its financial obligations as soon as August in the absence of Congressional action.

Social Security beneficiaries could also pay a price for Republican obstruction on Capitol Hill. If Congress fails to act in time to either raise or suspend the debt limit, benefit checks could be delayed for weeks, possibly longer. Seniors and people with disabilities dependent on their Social Security benefits to pay essential monthly expenses simply cannot afford that kind of disruption – nor should they have to.

As we wrote in 2011 when the GOP tried this same ploy, “Americans of all ages and political parties reject Social Security cuts. We need to remind our representatives in Congress and the Senate that Social Security is a promise to the American people that should not be broken.”