Senate Democrats put pork ahead of Social Security last week when they lined up unanimously to kill legislation that would have guaranteed that seniors would receive Social Security payments in full and on time in the event the debt ceiling is not raised and the government is precluded from borrowing more money. In a 52-47 party-line vote, Democrats tabled an amendment (S.A. 113) to the Patent Reform Act(S. 23) that would have required the government to “prioritize all obligations on the debt held by the public in the event that the debt limit is reached, providing also that the government give equal priority to payment of Social Security benefits.”
In other words, under the amendment, Social Security and interest on the national debt would have been given first call on current revenues, which are more than three times the amount required to pay interest and Social Security combined, to ensure that there would be plenty of money available to pay debt service and Social Security benefits if the government were unable to borrow more money. The amendment, introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, on behalf of Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, was a revised version of the Full Faith and Credit Act (S. 163) introduced earlier by Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican.
The Toomey bill requires only that debt service be prioritized to have first call on current federal revenues to pay interest on the debt held by the public in the event the debt ceiling is reached. The Alliance for Retirement Prosperity was alone among the so-called senior groups, including AARP, in urging the expansion of the prioritization under the Full Faith and Credit Act to include Social Security. Mr. Toomey agreed with the Alliance that Social Security should receive equal protection, and he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Vitter-DeMint amendment to the patent act, which expanded his language to include Social Security.
For decades, Democrats have played the demagogue on seniors’ issues, constantly accusing Republicans of wanting to dismantle Social Security and put seniors out in the cold. But it was Democrats who slashed Medicare without reforming it to help pay for Obamacare, and now, when it comes time to do something real to protect Social Security, it is the Republicans, not Democrats, who put their votes where their mouths are.
The vote on the Toomey-Vitter-DeMint amendment finally showed just how duplicitous Democrats have been on Social Security. While constantly bloviating on the need to protect Social Security from those dastardly Republicans, what Democrats really have been up to all this time is protecting their ability to use Social Security as leverage to hold seniors hostage and feed the liberal addiction to higher federal spending and more federal debt. The last thing in the world Senate Democrats want is actually to protect Social Security from the threat of default if the government shuts down or the debt ceiling is frozen and the government is not allowed to borrow more money. That would eliminate their ability to hold seniors hostage whenever Congress thinks about cutting spending and reining in the national debt.
The defeat of the Toomey-Vitter-DeMint amendment to the patent act is only the beginning. It should be a wake-up call to the American people to get behind this effort. Congress will have adequate opportunity between now and the time it runs up against the $14.29 trillion debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department estimates will occur between April 15 and May 31, to reconsider the Toomey-Vitter-DeMint amendment.
As Jack Kemp used to emphasize, great changes occur when Archimedean leverage is applied on the margin, where small changes can produce huge consequences. Mr. Toomey, Mr. Vitter and Mr. DeMint are the men on the margin, and if they play their cards right, it won’t take much to pry enough Democrats loose to release the senior hostages and free Congress to get about the business of reducing the size of government.
Lawrence A. Hunter is president of the Alliance for Retirement Prosperity.
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