OPINION - Brown, Portman Ryan fight cuts aimed at entitlement programs


By Robert Weiner and Ben Lasky

The Vindicator

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, co-chair of the Select Committee on Pensions, will be perhaps the greatest protector of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Brown told the National Press Club earlier this year that legislation expected to come to the floor in December could solve a big chunk of the nation’s pension crisis. Brown, together with Ohio’s other senator, Republican Rob Portman, taking over for departing Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, had planned to have the committee develop a bill which Brown predicted would pass by the end of the year.

However, in a joint statement on Nov. 29, Brown and Portman said that while they have made “significant progress and a bipartisan solution is attainable, more time is needed.” They added, “Without action, the multiemployer pension system will collapse ... forcing many employers to go bankrupt.”

Social Security

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, also understands how important Social Security is and the dangers to it. On Oct. 11, Ryan, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, tweeted, “62 million people rely on this crucial program to make ends meet. I remain committed to stopping those who seek to make cuts to Social Security. We must protect and expand Social Security.”

Don’t think that Social Security is safe just because Democrats won the House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mc-Connell said he will continue to try to cut entitlements. With Republicans retaining control of the Senate after the midterms despite the House changing hands, Democrats should gear up for a major battle on entitlements. McConnell told Bloomberg News that he blamed entitlements for the rising deficit. “It’s disappointing ... unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.” Forget about the $2 trillion annually in lost revenue by rich tax cuts – to McConnell it’s Social Security.

Congress could make cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid in order to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy that will add $12 trillion to the deficit over the next decade, calling it a “budget compromise.”

Missed deadline

As we approach the end of the year, the deadline for Brown’s private pension crisis is gone. The committee set a Nov. 30 deadline to come to an agreement. No agreement was reached, but the committee is still working on coming to an agreement. If Brown wants to run for president, as has been rumored, he will want to deliver on his promises, now apparently in the next Congress.

A recent CBO report found that Brown’s proposed bill to fix the U.S.’ pension crisis would cost the government $34 billion over 10 years, far below the trillion-dollar deficit caused by the tax cut bill.

“This crisis threatens thousands of workers. We know that ... What Washington doesn’t always understand is that workers over the last 20, 30, 40 years have given money away so that they will have retirement money in the future,” Brown said.

U.S. workers are now left with 401Ks that only some people have. Very few have the value of sustained pension programs, which are often worth at least $1 million for people over 65.

As a first step, Brown is pressing for the Butch Lewis Act, named after an Ohio truck driver and Vietnam War veteran who died while fighting pension cuts. Introduced in December 2017, it would create the Pension Rehabilitation Administration, which would sell bonds to private investors and use the proceeds for low interest loans to multiemployer pension funds.

Brown acknowledged in a conversation with us after his National Press club speech that the problem is far broader than the pension crisis. “We have to invest more in Social Security,” Brown said. Excluding those who receive it for disability, 46 million people receive Social Security. Before Social Security, more than 50 percent of seniors lived in poverty. Today it is less than 10 percent.SNbS

Viable response

Brown’s Social Security proposal is a very viable response given that many seniors rely on it to survive. It has lost buying power since President Roosevelt started Social Security.

If Congress does not make the necessary investment in Social Security called for by Brown and Ryan, and the private pension corrections called for by Brown and Portman, Americans will wind up paying for all of the living expenses instead of making the corrections. All three need to push the congressional legislation that protects seniors’ budgets. That’s the budget compromise that’s really needed.

Robert Weiner is former Clinton and Bush White House spokesman, former chief of staff of the U.S. House Aging Committee, and Oberlin College graduate. Ben Lasky is Senior Policy Analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.

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