A major bloc of 29 senators took a strong stand today against any cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal.
"We will oppose including Social Security cuts for future or current beneficiaries in any deficit reduction package," the senators said in a letter circulated by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the founder of the Senate Defending Social Security Caucus.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate's No. 3 leader, signed the letter. So did Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), who joined Sanders at a Capitol news conference.
Other senators who signed the letter are Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).
Social Security has not contributed to the deficit or to the national debt, the senators said. The program that benefits more than 50 million retirees, widows, widowers, orphans and disabled Americans has a $2.7 trillion surplus and, according to actuaries, will be able to pay every benefit owed to every eligible recipient for the next 21 years.
"Contrary to some claims, Social Security is not the cause of our nation's deficit problem. Not only does the program operate independently, but it is prohibited from borrowing," the letter said.
"Even though Social Security operates in a fiscally responsible manner, some still advocate deep benefit cuts and seem convinced that Social Security hands out lavish welfare checks. But Social Security is not welfare. Seniors earned their benefits by working and paying into the system," the letter added.
Social Security has not contributed to deficits because it has a dedicated funding stream. Workers and employers each pay half of a 12.4 percent payroll tax on the first $110,100 of a worker's wages. The tax rate for employees was reduced to 4.2 percent in 2011 and 2012, but is scheduled to return to 6.2 percent in January.