Budget Deal? Don’t Applaud Republicans for Releasing Their Hostages

Monday night, the Republican leadership agreed to release their hostages: the need to raise the debt limit, the need to keep the government operating, and the need to ensure that all Social Security disability benefits can continue to be paid in full and on time beyond 2016.

When hostage takers release their hostages, we are, of course, relieved that the hostages are no longer in harm’s way, but this is nothing to celebrate. That the ransom isn’t steeper is also not something to celebrate.

Included in the ransom is a diversion of Social Security resources towards addressing virtually nonexistent fraud. Those provisions will likely require workers with disabilities to wait longer to receive their earned benefits and may prevent some from receiving their earned benefits completely. That is wrong.

The legislation has some good provisions, along with the ransom. It does ensure that Medicare beneficiaries will not experience drastically large premium increases. It also closes a loophole that was introduced in the law relatively recently that allows wealthier Americans to game the system by claiming extra benefits inconsistent with the goals of the program. Though some provisions are positive, Social Security legislation, as a matter of principle, should go through regular order, in the light of day.

If that were done, Social Security would be expanded. As the overwhelming majority of Americans recognize, Social Security’s one shortcoming is that its benefits are too low. Congress should follow the will of the people by expanding those modest but vital benefits and restore the program to long-range actuarial balance by requiring the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share.

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