Debt supercommittee—both sides digging in

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With a Nov. 23 deadline looming for the congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the debt "supercommittee") to finish its work, members from both parties are digging in and preparing for a fight; bipartisan cooperation seems unlikely. Both the Democratic and Republican plans submitted to the super committee include controversial changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; however, the way the two parties want to deal with these changes are very different—and a major source of controversy. It is still not clear what the supercommittee will decide when it comes to Social Security. Proposals from both sides include cutting Medicare benefits for recipients and changing the Social Security cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) formula to the Chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) formula, which immediately would reduce the COLA for beneficiaries. To see how the Chained CPI would harm seniors, go to http://bit.ly/skmv0w. The AFT opposes all these approaches.

In a Nov. 4 letter to the supercommittee, AFT president Randi Weingarten called for a "balanced" approach, urging that the committee's final product "include language which ensures that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes. Capturing these revenues would, for example, reduce pressure on the committee to make drastic cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security." AFT members do not support a package that weakens key federal programs like Pell Grants. Weingarten also pressed the Congress to use new revenues that would "boost job creation right now."

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) recently introduced a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that the supercommittee should not propose any cuts in benefits to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. With respect to Social Security, "no benefit cuts" would mean no increase in Social Security's retirement age and no reduction in its cost-of-living adjustments, which would result if the Chained CPI were to be adopted.

The Democratic plan would raise a majority of its revenue from tax increases and a reform of the tax code. The Republicans on the other hand include some changes to the tax code but get a majority of their savings from cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits. 

According to the Washington Post, Democrats on the supercommittee recently discussed the Democratic plan, proposed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), which would reduce the country's nearly $3 trillion deficit over 10 years through a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. About $500 billion of that would come from cuts to Medicaid and Medicare. More than $112 billion would be cuts in Social Security benefits, a result of imposing the Chained CPI.

"This can do nothing but to confuse and derail the progress that has been made," says AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. He admits he was surprised by the number of cuts in the Democratic plan. Trumka has indicated that any member of Congress who votes for cuts to Medicare and Social Security will risk not getting the AFL-CIO's endorsement in the coming elections. To hear Trumka's remarks on the proposal, go to http://blog.aflcio.org/2011/10/28/trumka-proposed-super-committee-cuts-to-social-security-medicare-medicaid-unacceptable.

The AFT continues to work for a balanced approach that includes needed revenues but protects vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

November 10, 2011