News & Politics

Republicans Have a Sinister New Way of Cutting Social Security

It’s a classic Trojan horse scenario—one they've been using a lot lately.

Photo Credit: YouTube/MSNBC

They’re a cunning lot, these elected Republican officials. In their latest plot to revoke the fundamental benefits that have saved millions of seniors from falling into poverty, Republicans are now looking for ways to bribe Americans into forgoing their government-guaranteed retirement security.

Case in point: Ivanka Trump and Marco Rubio recently unveiled their plan to provide parental leave to Americans who choose to postpone retirement age and forgo Social Security payments. It's a clear attempt to chip away at Social Security, a long-standing target of the GOP.

Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, expressed dismay with the plan, saying, "It's well past time for our country to join the rest of the world in providing workers with paid family and medical leave. But we should not undermine our retirement security to achieve it."

This isn’t the first time Republicans have suggested Americans cut into their future Social Security benefits to pay for immediate needs. Rep. Tom Garrett's similarly ridiculous proposal to "solve" the student debt crisis would allow young people struggling with college loan debt to stall their Social Security benefits until later on in life in exchange for loan forgiveness.

Progressives were outraged when Garrett announced his plan. Melissa Byrne, a former Bernie Sanders staffer and candidate for DNC vice-chair, told AlterNet, “Rep. Garrett's plan is simply a fancy fraud on young people trying to start their lives....Social Security is a promise and no one should be able to limit that promise.”

The Garrett plan and the Ivanka-Rubio scheme are clearly linked. Social Security advocates have noticed that while Republicans are perfectly happy to continue direct attacks on Medicare, they’ve learned that Social Security will be much harder to dismantle, given its popularity. But that doesn’t mean they’re giving up their crusade. They’ve just found a new strategy: manipulating people into giving up their benefits in exchange for basic rights they should already have as workers.

Altman echoes this in a statement for AlterNet: "Proposing to cut an individual's Social Security in exchange for other benefits is a new tactic in the ongoing Republican war on Social Security. Since the program is too popular for them to directly cut or privatize, they apparently are now testing a strategy of forcing people to choose between important economic needs. This involves treating Social Security like a piggy bank rather than the insurance that it is. The reality is that Americans should be able to educate themselves without incurring debt, take paid leave to care for children, and have a secure, adequate source of retirement income after a lifetime of contributing."  

Conservatives have openly admitted this change of tactic in their war against Social Security.

Carrie Lukas, who works for the Independent Women's Forum, the Koch brothers-funded think tank that published the Ivanka-Rubio parental leave plan, recently wrote in an article for the Federalist that the plan is a first step toward privatizing Social Security. In her defense of the Ivanka-Rubio plan, she writes: “Encouraging people to think about Social Security’s assets as if those benefits are their property for use now or at retirement could even encourage people to want to move more in that direction and transform the current pay-as-you-go system into one that pre-funds future benefits and with assets that belong to individuals.”

The Johnson bill, a more traditional package of Republican Social Security cuts, was introduced in late 2016, but hasn’t made progress toward a vote. According to Social Security Works, this could be the reason the GOP is now experimenting with these dangerous new backdoor approaches. But a cut is a cut—don’t be fooled. There's nothing generous or even fair about asking Americans to sacrifice their future security for the right to start a family or a career free of the burden of debt.

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Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.