Republicans are backing Rep. Paul Ryan’s government-gutting ”Roadmap for America’s Future,” which includes a radical set of cuts to Social Security. Last week, 22 Republican senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama threatening to vote against raising the debt ceiling unless he agrees to them.
Along with the standard set of backdoor benefit cuts -- chiefly, “progressive” price indexing and another hike in the retirement age -- contained in other prominent Social Security reform proposals, the Roadmap includes a plan to partially privatize the program and let workers under 55 divert 40 percent of their and their employers’ contributions into individual accounts. As the Urban Institute and many others have noted, such a plan would destroy the progressivity of the program, gutting benefits for the poorest Americans.
There’s little new about these proposals -- Republicans have long been trying to eviscerate entitlement benefits. But there are a few notable things the proposal doesn’t cut.
The Roadmap promises that “those receiving survivor and disability benefits will see no change.” This single-sentence, vaguely worded promise (“no change” from current benefit levels? Promised levels? Projected levels?) doesn't hint as to why Ryan believes that survivors and the disabled deserve to be exempt from cuts that most of the rest of the population would suffer.
But Ryan's own biography does. After his father died suddenly from a heart attack when Ryan was 16, he collected Social Security survivor benefits. Ryan received these benefits for two years and saved the money for college. In 1988, he enrolled in Miami University in Ohio and paid tuition with the survivor’s checks.
Ryan's decision to exempt this program from cuts, then, begs an important ideological question. What is the litmus test he uses to decide which programs should be cut and which should be preserved? H.R.1, the Republicans’ proposed federal budget for the rest of the year, for which Ryan and nearly every other Republican representative voted, included $61.1 billion in cuts to a wide variety of federal programs. Among them was the elimination of UNITY, an $8.1 million program that provides developmental activities for young children with disabilities and anti-discrimination programs to combat bullying of children with disabilities in schools. Does Rep. Ryan, then, believe that the only assistance children with disabilities should receive from the federal government is the $319 monthly check that the average child with disabilities receives from Social Security? Some ideological clarification from Rep. Ryan seems to be in order.