Baucus: Take Social Security out of talks on deficit reduction

Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusLawmakers: Leave advertising tax break alone GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda White House tax-reform push is ‘game changer,’ says ex-chairman MORE (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Tuesday that Social Security should not be part of current efforts to reduce budget deficits.

At a Finance hearing, Baucus said that Social Security “is an issue that should be addressed sooner, rather than later, to give workers time to plan for any changes.”

“But the current situation does not necessitate rushed or severe action,” added Baucus, who is one of the bipartisan group of lawmakers discussing deficits with Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden fuels 2020 speculation Biden calls for unity: 'It’s time for America to get up' The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE. “Our deficit and debt, on the other hand, is clearly a crisis.”

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Baucus’s Tuesday comments might not be a total surprise, as he has said in the past that the entitlement program was not a driver of the country’s current fiscal problems. He also voted against the plan from President Obama’s fiscal commission in part because it called for raising the Social Security retirement age.

But the Montana Democrat appears to be laying down another marker in advance of the second installment of the Biden talks, which are set for this afternoon. A Senate Democratic aide said that Baucus wants any Social Security fixes off the table when it comes to budget deficits.

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On Monday, House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbying World Jordan won't run for Oversight gavel Oklahoma rep. launches long-shot bid for Oversight chair MORE (R-Ohio) said that the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling should be increased only if it it paired with a greater amount of spending cuts. The Speaker also reiterated that he was opposed to using any tax increases to reduce deficits.

For its part, the Gang of Six, the bipartisan group of senators using the fiscal commission's plan as a guidepost, could include Social Security in whatever plan they produce.

By and large, Social Security is not seen as being as large a long-term fiscal problem as other entitlement programs, like Medicare and Medicaid. 

But Baucus’s comments underscore that Democrats and Republicans could also have a hard time coming together on Social Security.

Top Democrats, like Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? Racial representation: A solution to inequality in the People’s House MORE (Nev.) and New York Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerCongress urges Trump administration to release public transit funding Overnight Tech: FCC begins rolling back net neutrality | Sinclair deal puts heat on regulators | China blames US for 'Wanna Cry' attack Sasse dominates Twitter with Schumer photo, 'reefer' caption MORE, have also said that Social Security should be removed from deficit-reduction discussions.

But on Tuesday, Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Regulation: Biz groups push to scrap rule on reporting employee pay | GOP skeptical of Trump paid leave plan GOP skeptical of Trump plan for paid parental leave GOP talks of narrowing ‘blue-slip’ rule for judges MORE (R-Utah) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) did not seem so sure of that.

Toomey told reporters that he was surprised by Baucus’s comments, calling Social Security the easiest of the entitlements to fix.

And Hatch, the ranking member on Senate Finance, said at the Tuesday hearing that the Social Security Trust Fund took in less than it paid out last year.

“If someone wants to tell me that question has nothing to do with the current deficits and debt, I think I’ve got a fine old bridge linking Manhattan and Brooklyn that I’d like to sell you,” Hatch said.

For his part, Baucus on Tuesday also called Social Security benefits “modest” and said they are already scheduled to be reduced, with the retirement age currently rising toward 67. The Finance chairman said a one-year boost in the retirement age was essentially a 7 percent decrease in benefits.