By Bernie Becker - 03/02/11 06:51 PM EST
“The two biggest causes of our current deficit are the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and two wars that were never paid for,” said Becerra, the top Democrat of the Ways and Means subcommittee, about Social Security. “Now that the bill has come due, whose neck are Republicans trying to hang it on? Social Security — which has $2.6 trillion in reserves dedicated to paying the retirement, disability and survivor benefits that American taxpayers have earned.”
Last week, Factcheck.org, an initiative of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, reported that some top Democrats were incorrect in claiming that Social Security did not contribute at all to the federal deficit. In fact, the group stated, the government had to borrow $37 billion last year for Social Security.
But as the fact-checking site also noted, Social Security generally is not seen as presenting the long-term fiscal hurdles that Medicare and Medicaid do.
A spokeswoman for the House GOP responded to Becerra's statement by saying it showed Democrats want to avoid reality when it comes to Social Security.
"The sooner we secure Social Security’s future, the sooner we provide certainty for those who are counting on Social Security’s income safety net," the spokeswoman said. "Rather than resorting to scare tactics and false accusations, Democrats should work with Republicans to strengthen Social Security."
The latest back-and-forth comes as Washington officials are discussing how to deal with the long-term solvency of Social Security, which currently is projected to pay out full benefits for another quarter-century or so.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the chairman of the Budget Committee, has said he wants to work to ensure the program is solvent for the next 75 years but does not think that the program needs to be part of broader, long-term deficit discussions. For his part, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others are looking to block any potential efforts to cut Social Security benefits.
On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said this week that he will push legislation that would adjust benefits level and deal with the retirement age, which currently stands at 67 for those born in 1960 or later.
The plan issued by President Obama’s fiscal commission last year would have gradually increased the age at which someone can receive full Social Security benefits, eventually reaching 69 by 2075. Conrad and some other lawmakers who are reportedly talking about deficit reduction — Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the majority whip — all served on the debt panel and endorsed its recommendations.