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An important shift just happened in the Senate, and an important win for Social Security advocates who have been arguing for months now that Social Security has no place in the deficit debate. A key ConservaDem, member of the catfood commission, and one of the Senators who was instrumental in creating that catfood commission, has markedly changed his tune on Social Security. North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad now says Social Security should be left out of budget negotiations
Senate Democrats want to put the Social Security trust fund in a lockbox and insulate it from a broader budget-cutting package designed to reduce the national deficit....
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who is at the center of bipartisan talks, said he wants to prolong the solvency of Social Security to 75 years. Under its current setup, the program is projected to pay 100 percent of benefits for the next 26 years.
But Conrad does not want Social Security to be part of a broader proposal to reduce the $1.6 trillion federal deficit.
“It might be useful to have Social Security treated on a separate track because it is not part of the deficit reduction package,” Conrad told The Hill before the Presidents Day recess. “I think it should be separated.”
“There are many who recognize we have a long-term challenge with Social Security but that’s very separate from the deficit reduction,” Conrad said. “When those two get put together, it creates huge problems to getting the deficit reduction done because it confuses the issue.”
“I appreciate what Sen. Conrad said,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), founder of the Senate Social Security Caucus. “I can tell you that I think there is growing sentiment within the Democratic caucus to make sure that Social Security is not dealt with within the context of deficit reduction.”
Sanders said once Social Security is separated from deficit reduction talks, lawmakers could debate ways to extend its solvency. He favors raising the cap on income subject to payroll taxes, which is now $106,800.
As the leading conservative Democrat pushing Social Security cuts, Conrad's shift is huge for holding a line against cuts. Not only does he have the power of the Budget Committee, he's been a staunch "entitlement" reformer. He had supported the idea of raising the retirement age and the other cuts proposed by the catfood commission.
We're not out of the woods on Social Security, yet. The Third Way tools are still pushing, saying "lawmakers can separate Social Security from the deficit reduction package but they must reform the entitlement program sometime during the 112th Congress." The argument is that they should do it while there's a Democratic Senate and White House (rather defeatist of them, no?). But there is no urgency in "fixing" Social Security, particularly the Third Way's way.