A handful of Republican Congressmen — including Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) — have announced that they will oppose increasing the nation’s debt ceiling the next time it comes up for a vote, essentially saying that they are okay with a government shutdown or the myriad consequences of the U.S. defaulting on its debt obligations. RNC Chairman Michael Steele even drew a hard line in the sand, saying “we’re not going to compromise on raising the debt ceiling.”
Other Republicans, however, are planning to use the debt ceiling vote and imminent economic chaos as an opportunity to wring concessions from Senate Democrats and President Obama. On Meet the Press yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that he would not vote to increase the debt limit unless a plan is adopted to cut Social Security benefits via raising the retirement age:
GRAHAM: This is an opportunity to make sure the government is changing its spending ways. I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long-term debt obligations starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means-tests for benefits. […]
GREGORY: That’s a big condition just on Social Security alone.
GRAHAM: Yeah, it is!
GREGORY: You think Republicans are prepared to follow you and two things you said: raise the retirement age and means-test benefits for older Americans?
GRAHAM: I would suggest that if we’re serious about taking America in a new direction and you’re not putting entitlement reform on the table, you’ve missed a great opportunity to change the course of America’s future.
Graham added that he’d also vote against increasing the debt limit unless non-defense discretionary spending is reduced to the 2008 level, which is a key plank in the House Republican “Pledge to America.” But it’s Graham’s insistence that regressive cuts to Social Security be the price of avoiding government default that should be the headline-grabber.
Remember, the Social Security program can’t add to the national debt, and in its present state will pay out full benefits until 2037 (and close to full benefits for decades after that). Tying Social Security to a debate over the national debt simply makes no sense.
And while there are progressive changes to Social Security that can be made to guarantee its long-term solvency and increase benefits for those who most rely upon the program, raising the retirement age is the most regressive step available to would-be Social Security reformers. Such a move would ultimately “cut benefits for tens of millions of middle class workers who are overwhelmingly dependent on Social Security for their retirement income.”