Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd December 2012
Ten days ago I wrote about this statement by my Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, to a Wall Street Journal symposium:
I think there are other things you can do — look, I’m open to a conversation about this. I think when it comes to things like Social Security, again, you’ve got to take a mixed approach. I mean if you look at Simpson-Bowles or other plans, again, they have a combination of additional revenue along with spending reform. — [Alan Murray, Wall Street Journal: But you're willing to at least look at that?] — I’m willing to consider all these ideas as part of an overall plan. I don’t think we should jump to the solutions which simply … especially in Medicare, which simply transfer costs, and within Social Security, I think there are actually other ideas, some of which some of us discussed in the SuperCommittee, but unfortunately to no avail.
As ranking member of the House Budget Committee and a key Democratic Party functionary (e.g., ex-DCCC chairman), Van Hollen’s views on budget matters are a fair indication of the Democratic position on issues like these. So I wrote Van Hollen’s office, laying out my concerns and then inquiring, about the the above quote,
My first question: doesn’t that amount to being open to a Social Security benefit cut? (Perhaps via what I think are called “chained cost of living adjustments”, i.e., a way of decreasing the adjustment for inflation?) If not, why not?
My second question: Rep. Van Hollen then says, “I don’t think we should jump to the solutions which simply … especially in Medicare, which simply transfer costs, and within Social Security, I think there are actually other ideas, some of which some of us discussed in the SuperCommittee, but unfortunately to no avail.” What were those “other ideas”?
Late last week, I got an answer from Congressman Van Hollen’s press secretary Bridgett Frey, referring me to a Huffington Post article by Zach Carter, featuring the video embedded below in which Van Hollen said,
“With respect to Social Security, I agree with what the president has said and what [Rep.] Peter DeFazio said, Social Security is not part of the deficit and debt problem and we’re not going to raid Social Security in order to balance other parts of the budget. As the president has said you can deal with Social Security and try to strengthen it on its own terms but it should not be part of these other conversations.”
The video also shows a clip of Van Hollen refusing to go along with FOX News’ Martha Macallum’s suggestion to raise the Medicare eligibility age:
No. There are much better ways of dealing with Medicare costs. Why wouldn’t people say, let’s look at ways where we can reduce the cost of Medicare without simply transferring rising health care costs?
Now both of those statements are great, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is urging supporters to thank Rep. Van Hollen for saying so.
So I did — in person, at a Saturday night fundraiser/birthday party for our State Senator Jamie Raskin — thanking my representative both for his opposition to raising the Medicare eligibility age and for decoupling Social Security from the immediate ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations. I also asked about the ‘spending reforms’ Van Hollen had mentioned to the Wall Street Journal symposium — but unfortunately, all he had time to answer was that he felt Social Security would need to be addressed later.
How much later? I wondered, as Mr. Van Hollen headed off to the dais to praise our excellent State Senator. While both Van Hollen’s statements are welcome, they don’t actually take Social Security off the table altogether, they simply postpone its consideration. That may well be a win for now (in which case: thanks, for now), but it left my questions unanswered about what specific kinds of “spending reforms” Van Hollen is hinting he might support later on — and it doesn’t answer just how soon that might be.