Bloomberg Tax
Feb. 6, 2023, 10:45 AM

Republicans Eye Debt Deal for Social Security, Medicare Panels

Jack Fitzpatrick
Jack Fitzpatrick
Chris Cioffi
Chris Cioffi
Senior Reporter

House Republican committee and caucus chairs are pushing to create panels to study extending Social Security and Medicare solvency as part of any debt limit deal, even as Speaker Kevin McCarthy says the entitlement programs are off the table.

House Republicans have offered two bills to create panels to consider future legislation to shore up the solvency of entitlement programs — the Trust Act and the Bipartisan Social Security Commission Act — as possible parts of a debt-limit deal. While McCarthy (R-Calif.) has broadly said cuts to Social Security or Medicare are off the table in debt-limit talks, and downplayed the value of fiscal commissions, those members say their plans haven’t been ruled out.

The discussion about creating commissions indicates some policy proposals floated by Republicans on entitlements — such as increasing the eligibility age or adding means-testing measures — are a possibility, even as GOP leaders say they’re not negotiating policy changes directly as part of a debt-limit vote.

“I wouldn’t think it’d be off the table,” Rep. Kevin Hern (Okla.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said last week of the Trust Act. “I would hope it wouldn’t be.”

Hern’s caucus released a list of proposals last week to reduce the deficit as part of a possible debt-limit deal. Those proposals didn’t call for changes to Social Security or Medicare. But Hern said the creation of a bipartisan panel to negotiate policy changes to extend the solvency of those programs could still be part of debt-limit negotiations.

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“If you do it bipartisan — I mean, there has to be something to engage both sides in a discussion about how we preserve the promise,” Hern said in a hallway interview.

Hern speaks during a committee hearing in September, 2021.
Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg

After a meeting with President Joe Biden last week, McCarthy was dim on the creation of a commission, saying it would only state the obvious.

“I don’t need a commission to tell me where there’s waste, fraud, and abuse,” McCarthy told reporters at the White House. “I don’t need a commission to tell us where we’re spending too much.”

McCarthy and other Republicans have vowed not to cut benefits for people at or near retirement age.

“There’s not a single soul on either side saying cutting benefits for those who have worked their entire lives,” Hern said. “Not a single soul.”

But lawmakers including Hern say that doesn’t rule out creating a commission to make recommendations about the programs’ longevity. A point of discussion could also be an increase in the age of eligibility — delayed significantly in the future, so it doesn’t hurt people near retirement, Hern said.

House Budget Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), a cosponsor of the TRUST Act in previous congresses, said he sees a commission as a method of getting to comity that’s worked before, pointing to the 1983 negotiations between then-President Ronald Reagan (R) and House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.).

“I don’t believe we’re going to do what is necessary and right, which is save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, without having a bipartisan mechanism,” Arrington said. “Whether that’s on the table for negotiations, I defer to the speaker.”

The Texas Republican said he also plans to ask McCarthy whether commissions remain on the table during a meeting this week to discuss the debt ceiling and prepare a budget resolution. He’s said he aims to pass a resolution out of his panel by April. The measure would set parameters on how the GOP would project to eliminate the federal deficit within 10 years.

Revenue Stream Dreams

Many Republicans contend the government’s debt woes are all on the spending side, and balancing the federal budget can be done without new revenue streams. Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, called the prospect “impossible.”

House Rules Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) voiced support last week for overhauling one program, like extending the solvency of Social Security, as part of a debt limit deal. Cole didn’t rule out any potential outcomes from a commission, noting the discussions between O’Neill and Reagan led to a bevy of new provisions, including some tax changes.

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“The commission might propose an increase in revenue, it certainly did in ‘83,” Cole said last week. “We’ll wait and see, but there’s lots of spending out there.”

He said he’s not sure if McCarthy cooled to the idea of creating a commission, but he continues to advocate for it. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said Cole discussed the idea with the House Republican Conference, but he wasn’t sure leadership was open to the idea as part of a debt-limit deal.

Senators are taking a more wait-and-see approach to debt limit talks. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said a commission could force lawmakers to come together and take a serious look at how to address the nation’s debt. Getting Republicans on board with new taxes, however, would be a tough sell.

“There are some Republicans who have expressed an openness if that approach or idea was coupled with meaningful spending reforms, and programmatic changes, then I think there might be something that could be in the mix,” Thune said. “But clearly, that’s not a place where Republicans want to start.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington at; Chris Cioffi at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michaela Ross at; Giuseppe Macri at

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