By Alexander Bolton - 03/28/11 06:35 PM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday accused Republicans of threatening Social Security by pushing $61 billion worth of spending cuts.
Democratic leaders are spoiling for a fight with Republicans over Social Security at a time when they are struggling to win the public relations battle over discretionary spending cuts.
“H.R. 1 really hurts Social Security,” he said during a rally with union members and other supporters at the Senate Dirksen Office Building. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined the event.
The legislation would cut the Social Security Administration’s operating budget by $1.7 billion. Officials warn the cuts could force the program to shut down for up to a month and delay the processing of benefit applications for as many as 700,000 applicants.
Democratic strategists believe they can gain crucial political leverage over Republicans if they publicize GOP support for cutting the popular benefits program.
Democratic polling from late last year found that 82 percent of voters oppose cuts, including nearly 80 percent of independents and more than 80 percent of Republicans. The polling, conducted by Lake Research Partners, showed that 69 percent of voters opposed raising the Social Security retirement age to 69, a recommendation of President Obama’s fiscal commission.
A Senate “Gang of Six” is negotiating legislation to implement the deficit-reduction proposals of the fiscal commission.
Reid and the other senators emphasized their staunch opposition to raising the retirement age or other benefits cuts.
Reid said he is irritated by pundits and politicians who accept the GOP argument that Social Security is headed for bankruptcy.
“It’s not just an exaggeration that Social Security is headed for bankruptcy, it’s an outright lie,” Reid said.
Reid and other Democrats at Monday’s event note that Social Security has a $2.6 trillion surplus and is projected to pay out 100 percent of benefits until 2037. After that point it is projected to pay out about 80 percent of owed benefits unless changes are made to the program.
Harkin said Congress should raise the cap on income subject to payroll taxes to prolong the life of the program. Social Security taxes do not apply to annual income above $106,800.