POLITICS - With the help of three Democratic members, the Republican-controlled House Budget Committee on Thursday advanced legislation to establish a fiscal commission that critics say is a trojan horse for Social Security and Medicare cuts.
The final vote to send the bill to the full House was 22-12, with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) joining every present Republican in supporting the Fiscal Commission Act.
The committee rejected four proposed Democratic amendments, including one supporting tax hikes on the rich to bolster Social Security and Medicare.
"Republicans are plowing ahead with their closed-door commission designed to cut Social Security and Medicare," Nancy Altman, the president of Social Security Works, said in a statement. "Many of the Republicans tried to claim that was not their goal, but they tellingly voted down Democratic amendments to rule out cutting those programs and instead require billionaires to pay their fair share."
"The vast majority of Democrats on the committee rightfully opposed the commission. Shame on the handful of exceptions," Altman added. "They have stabbed the American people in the back, and undermined President Joe Biden."
In his opening remarks at Thursday's hearing, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.)—the top Democrat on the committee—warned that "there are absolutely those who are getting ready to use a commission as a backdoor way to force through unpopular cuts" to Social Security and Medicare.
"We can put both trust funds on the path to full solvency for the rest of this century," said Boyle, who introduced legislation last year that would extend Social Security's solvency by at least 75 years by making the wealthy pay a more equitable share into the program. "We don't need a commission to do that."
Early in Thursday's hearing, Social Security Works executive director Alex Lawson interrupted the proceedings to deliver half a million petition signatures to the committee opposing the creation of a fiscal commission.
"We don't need a smoky back room. I would like you to listen to the American people when they say, 'Absolutely no cuts to Social Security,'" Lawson said as he was escorted out of the hearing room by a Capitol police officer. "A vote for a commission is a vote to cut Social Security."
The establishment of a fiscal commission is a top priority of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who proposed trillions of dollars in cuts to Social Security and Medicare during his tenure as chair of the Republican Study Commission—which has continued to push for steep cuts to the two programs.
Following Thursday's vote, House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) rattled off a list of right-wing groups that have supported the push for a fiscal commission, including Citizens Against Government Waste and Americans for Prosperity—an organization founded by the Koch brothers.
If passed by Congress, the bill advanced Thursday would establish a 16-member commission tasked with recommending policy changes designed to "balance the budget" and improve the "long-term fiscal outlook" of the nation's trust fund programs.
Any recommendations approved by the panel would be placed on a fast track in both chambers of Congress, with no amendments or delays permitted.
"Fiscal commissions are not the answer," the Alliance for Retired Americans saidThursday. "They are just smokescreens for politicians to hide behind while slashing earned benefits."
(Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams where this article was first published.)