This week, the House of Representatives adopted its rules of procedure for the 114th Congress (H. Res. 5). Stunningly, buried in this usually dry, non-controversial measure was an attack on Social Security that will put at risk Congress’s ability to prevent a 20% cut in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2016.
The provision, inserted by Representatives Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Tom Reed (R-NY) and approved by a vote of 234 to 168, sets up procedural hurdles to House consideration of a needed, routine replenishment of Social Security’s disability fund. Shockingly, these major changes were never considered in hearings or open to input from constituents. While these rules only affect the House – not the Senate – they set a dangerous tone for how the 114th Congress may deal with Social Security and SSDI.
Here are three facts about this week’s House action that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends need to know:
1. Congress needs to act by 2016 to prevent 20% across-the-board cuts in SSDI benefits.
Congress from time to time needs to adjust Social Security’s finances to account for population and economic shifts. The need to replenish the DI fund in 2016 to account for current trends, such as an older workforce now in its disability-prone years, has been expected for several decades. Without Congressional action, in 2016 the DI fund’s reserves will be depleted, leaving only incoming payroll contributions to pay for benefits. As a result, unless Congress acts, SSDI beneficiaries will face benefit cuts of 20% at the end of 2016.
2. “Reallocation” is the common-sense, traditional solution.
Over the last 5 decades, Congress has repeatedly, on a bipartisan basis, used a simple, common-sense solution to address shortfalls in either of Social Security’s two funds (the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance or OASI fund, and the Disability Insurance or DI fund). A temporary shift to direct more Social Security revenues to the DI fund – called “reallocation” — will extend the solvency of the DI fund for almost two decades. Congress has made similar shifts 11 times in the past, about equally increasing the percentage going into one fund or the other. Reallocation does not require any new taxes. Additionally, the solvency of the overall Social Security system stays the same, with the combined funds remaining fully solvent through 2033.
3. The House action creates roadblocks to strengthening Social Security, include SSDI.
The House rules of procedure govern how the House operates. The provision adopted in the House rules for the 114th Congress bars the House from reallocating to the DI fund. Procedurally, the House can in the future vote to waive this requirement – meaning that a reallocation could move forward, but only if the rule is waived. But the insertion of this provision into the House rules will create serious roadblocks to reallocation – and to Congress’s ability to keep Social Security’s promise to the more than 165 million hardworking Americans who contribute to Social Security and the nearly 11 million Americans who currently receive SSDI.