Senate panel advances nominee who Democrats blasted on Social Security

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday advanced two Social Security and Medicare trustees nominations over the objections of Democrats, who took issue with the fact that one of the nominees has advocated for cutting Social Security benefits.

The nominations of Charles Blahous, a Republican, and Robert Reischauer, a Democrat, were sent to the full Senate on party-line votes.

The Social Security and Medicare trustee boards produce annual reports on the programs’ trust funds. The boards consist of two public members as well as the secretaries of Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services and the Social Security commissioner.

{mosads}Blahous and Reischauer have already served terms as the public members of the Social Security and Medicare trustee boards, and the nominations are for additional terms of four years.

Senate Finance Committe Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called the nominees “highly qualified.” 

“Any reasonable observer would conclude that they have solid reputations as being fair, objective, balanced and, most important, highly competent,” he said.

But Democrats criticized Blahous, who was the executive director of former President George W. Bush’s commission that recommended the privatization of Social Security benefits. Outside of serving as a trustee, Blahous works at the Mercatus Institute, which is funded by prominent Republican donors Charles and David Koch, and he writes papers that are critical of Social Security, the Senate Democrats said. 

Ahead of the vote, Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post that Blahous is “part of an army of aggressive conservative ideologues groomed for government service and bankrolled by the Koch brothers.”  

Schumer said Wednesday that that public trustees should want to protect Social Security or at the least understand its importance. However, Schumer said, Blahous “has shown over the course of his academic career that he is personally, ideologically opposed to the fundamental promise of Social Security.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said that the fact that Blahous has argued for cutting Social Security benefits while having the title of public trustee “politicizes what should be an apolitical position.”

Hatch called Democrats’ criticisms “shameful.”

“Some of my friends on the other side seem to believe Social Security will be a particularly winning issue for them this year and are more than willing to attack and impugn the character of this nominee and undermine the credibility of the Social Security Board of Trustees in order to make their point,” he said.

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) also defended Blahous, saying that he and Reischauer “have been a team for a long time” and were “remarkably on the same page” during a recent hearing.

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that he opposes privatizing Social Security but that the policy disagreements were “not the central issue” for him.

Instead, Wyden said that there has been a bipartisan tradition of trustees only serving one term.

“I think that this committee ought to stick with the tradition,” Wyden said.

Tags Chuck Schumer Dan Coats Elizabeth Warren Orrin Hatch Ron Wyden Sheldon Whitehouse Sherrod Brown

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