H.R. 5779 Sparks Controversy Over Potential Threats to Social Security and Medicare

PORTLAND, Oregon – U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez were at odds with the national AFL-CIO over a bill in Congress that could potentially impact Social Security and Medicare. The bill, known as the Fiscal Commission Act of 2023, seeks to establish a 16-member commission to address federal deficit reduction through spending cuts and revenue changes. This proposal would receive “fast track” treatment and bypass the typical legislative process, going directly to the House and Senate floor without the possibility of filibustering or amendments.

H.R. 5779, sponsored by Michigan Republican Bill Huizenga, has garnered support from both Republicans and Democrats, with Gluesenkamp Perez as one of the co-sponsors. Despite passing the House Budget Committee in a 22-12 vote, the bill faced opposition from the AFL-CIO, AARP, and the group Social Security Works. These organizations have raised concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability in the commission’s decision-making process, particularly in relation to potential cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits.

Proponents of the bill argue that the increasingly partisan Congress has been unable to address the solvency of trust funds and deficit spending, prompting the need for the proposed commission. However, critics, including AFL-CIO’s Government Affairs Director William Samuel, have expressed apprehension about the potential repercussions of empowering a small group to make far-reaching decisions behind closed doors. The issue of trust fund solvency has been a cause for concern, given projections that the Social Security trust fund could be depleted by 2033.

The proposed composition of the commission, with equal representation from both parties, aims to prevent any extreme recommendations from advancing. However, critics argue that the requirement for bipartisan approval does not provide sufficient safeguard against partisan-driven proposals, particularly those related to Social Security. Alternative solutions, such as raising taxes on high earners, have been proposed but faced opposition from the committee’s Republican majority.

Blumenauer’s vote in favor of H.R. 5779, despite his support for amendments that were voted down, sparked disappointment from the AFL-CIO. Blumenauer defended his stance by emphasizing the bipartisan composition of the commission, while also advocating for simple solutions such as curbing defense spending and combating tax evasion. Gluesenkamp Perez, while unavailable for an interview, has shown support for measures to raise the cap on income earners to protect Social Security.

The battle over the Fiscal Commission Act reflects the broader challenges in finding consensus on fiscal policies and addressing the long-term sustainability of social welfare programs. The debate underscores the complexities of navigating a deeply divided Congress and the potential trade-offs between deficit reduction and protecting social benefits.