In March of 2015, the Senate blocked an amendment meant to provide more protection to the Social Security program. If it passed, the amendment would have required any Senate decision that would raise the eligibility age for Social Security benefits or cut benefits to get a ‘supermajority’ of 60 votes in order to become law.
This would obviously make it much more challenging to pass budget cuts or a raise the retirement age than if a simple majority was used as the deciding factor. The Senate chairman of the Budget Committee, Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), blocked the amendment, and the Senate voted 51-48 to uphold his decision after Democrats tried to override it.
Social Security Budget: The Bigger Picture
The recently blocked Social Security amendment is just a small part of a much bigger political conflict over budgeting for disability and retirement benefits. A big part of this issue is that the Social Security disability fund is on track to be depleted by the last financial quarter of 2016. Existing sources of revenue (mostly payroll taxes) will continue to cover 81% of the disability fund, but this means there would have to be a benefits cut of 19%, which would have a huge impact on the 11 million Americans who receive disability benefits.
President Obama supports a move to replenish the Social Security disability fund by reallocating a small percentage of the payroll taxes collected from the Old Age & Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (sometimes called the Retirement Fund) to the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. According to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this type of reallocation has happened 11 times in the past and could happen again now without having a significant impact on the retirement program’s solvency. The retirement program is much bigger than the disability program, so even a modest reallocation could help extend coverage for the disability program by up to 17 years. However, the House passed a rule in January blocking this reallocation between the two funds unless certain conditions were met.
Many Republican politicians believe that since the disability fund is running out of money, the government either needs to cut the disability program or step back and look at the solvency of the entire Social Security program. This could mean making Social Security budget cuts or raising the age of eligibility for retirement benefits.
This article represents just the tip of the iceberg on the various issues that Congress is considering concerning Social Security benefits. Since March, many more Social Security controversies have been taken up by Congress. There is a quite a bit of information on the web on this topic. I welcome you to do your own research and reach out to your elected officials concerning this matter of national importance.