Slashing income not a fix

Tina Haapala |

Right now I’m having a love-hate relationship with the Republican Party. On the very first day of the new Congress, the House put in place a procedure that forbids any fix of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program unless the overall Social Security system is reformed.

What I love is that Congress is finally paying attention to the Social Security programs. We’ve all heard how they are heading to insolvency sometime in the future, and the sooner you fix them, the less painful the remedy will be. Good job in starting the ball rolling.

What I hate is that they started the ball rolling toward a cliff. You see, the SSDI Trust Fund is expected to run out of money in 2016. If it does, the 11 million Americans who receive benefits from the Trust will see those benefits slashed. How much is a guess, but it’s in the ballpark of about 20%. Shame on them for putting the welfare of some of the most vulnerable among us at risk.

I know what they are doing: By linking the overall system to a fix of SSDI they are trying to force the Democrat Representatives to vote in favor of Social Security reforms in order to protect SSDI.

Okay, maybe I don’t know that. The justification is that the Republicans are trying to protect the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund. (The OASI is what y’all think of when you think about Social Security.) There is some validity to that. That’s because the “fix” to SSDI involves taking some of the taxes meant for OASI and diverting them to SSDI. Since the OASI is also running out of money, they contend that they are keeping from crippling an already broken part of Social Security in favor of another broken part of Social Security.

Let’s assume for a moment that their motivations are as stated and are just and pure. The fix proposed is estimated to shorten the lifespan of OASI by one year and at the same time extend the life of SSDI another 18. That keeps both programs solvent through 2033. But if this is their noble quest, they are saying it is worth risking having disability benefits slashed starting next year to protect SSDI 18 years from now.

I certainly agree that both Social Security retirement and disability benefit programs need to be worked on. I don’t agree we should hold one hostage in the process. We’re not just messing with a bureaucracy we are damaging the lives of those depending on those benefits. The fix proposed is not new. Congress has approved a reallocation of taxes between programs before—eleven times before. And the amount of change? One-tenth of 1% of FICA taxes would be reallocated.

Instead of holding the essential income of disabled persons ransom, we should instead pass a rule that slashes Congress’  payroll 20% if they don’t fix the system next year. Then maybe we’ll get some true bipartisan action.

This article was published  in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on February 1, 2015.