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Talk of Social Security Cuts in D.C. Renews Longstanding Concerns

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Beyond changes to Social Security, a large group of House Republicans in Washington proposes reforms to Medicare critics argued would amount to privatization of the system. (Adobe Stock)
Beyond changes to Social Security, a large group of House Republicans in Washington proposes reforms to Medicare critics argued would amount to privatization of the system. (Adobe Stock)

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 Mike Moen, Producer

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Wednesday, July 12, 2023   

There is renewed debate in Congress over the future of programs like Social Security and Medicare, and Wisconsin voices and advocacy groups are worried potential cuts are surfacing again.

In the past, Social Security has been targeted by GOP lawmakers who argued changes are needed to keep it solvent. Now, the House Republican Study Committee is proposing raising the retirement age and reducing benefits for above-average earners.

Jim Poplawski, a retiree from Racine, said he worked a lot of overtime in his career to have a big enough monthly payment from Social Security. He worries about cuts creating harm for those who, like him, have paid into the system.

“We’d put a lot of senior citizens in poverty if they had less Social Security, or worse Medicare or prescription coverage,” Poplawski pointed out.

Four members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation sit on the Republican Study Committee, including Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., who represents Poplawski’s district. Poplawski is urging them to oppose the plan. The panel’s report describes the ideas as “modest adjustments.” In addition to opposition from Democrats, some leading GOP presidential hopefuls are resisting the ideas. 

Nancy Altman, president of the advocacy group Social Security Works, said what concerns her is the blueprint would be swept up in House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s desire for a bipartisan commission on spending reductions. She emphasized it could fast-track cuts during 11th-hour budget negotiations without much debate.

“If the commission reached agreement, the recommendations would have to come up in the House and Senate. You could not amend it,” Altman cautioned. “It really lends itself for members saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t like that, but I had to do something. I had to vote up or down, and we have to save Social Security.'”

With the 2024 elections on the horizon, Altman feels the approach gives Republicans too much cover in forcing cuts unpopular in most public polls. Instead, her group backs some Democratic proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy to address future Social Security shortfalls.

“Because what the Democrats are proposing is exactly what the American people want,” Altman outlined. “Which is to expand the benefits, no cuts and — given the income and wealth inequality we’ve experienced — require those who are making millions of dollars every year to pay more for Social Security.”