Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) did a nice job this morning on Fox News Sunday of explaining why Social Security should have never been offered up as part of the negotiations over raising the debt ceiling even though he supported making sure it stays solvent for the long term as a member of the Simpson-Bowles commission. He also shot down nicely Bret Baier's attempt to paint the Social Security trust fund as full of worthless IOU's that have already been spent because the government borrowed against the program to pay for other things.
BAIER: Congressman, you were on the president's debt and deficit commission, the Bowles-Simpson commission, and you voted against the recommendations at the end. But during the meeting, one of the meetings, you said this, quote, "As you just said here, I don't want to leave the table because I started off the first day saying everything must be on the table" -- what you just said.
But as the negotiations in the debt ceiling increase have continued, you said this week, quote, "I don't see why I would support any plan that would cut benefits to seniors to pay for the reckless fiscal policies that led to us these massive deficits." That seems like a big change.
So, now, there are some things that are off the table for you.
BECERRA: As when I was on the fiscal commission and when any proposal comes before me for a vote, I would take a look. As much as I believe that Social Security should not be on the table because Social Security hasn't contributed 1 cent to the deficit that we face today, nor 1 cent to any of the national debt, the $14.3 trillion.
So, why should Social Security, why should seniors have to pay to balance the budget through Social Security cuts? But it should be on the table. I would fight to take it off the table, but it should start off on the table and then what should remain on the table are the things that really drove us into this deficit. And most folks know what drove us into these deficits. When you don't pay for two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and you borrow all the money from China, you're going to have to pay for it at some point.
BAIER: OK. You mention Social Security. In the president's deficit commission report, they say, among other things, "Without action the benefits currently pledged under Social Security are promise we cannot keep."
Do you think changes need to be made to Social Security for future generations or not?
BECERRA: Absolutely. That you just said the operative words, "future generations." We're not talking about balancing these budgets today for future generations. We're doing it because if we don't do it today, the person who got to pay that mortgage tomorrow will find interest rates will have shot up.
And so, we're trying to take care of past debts. Remember, the debt ceiling vote is about past debts. So, it's not about future obligations.
Social Security will be good for the next quarter century. But we should still do something to make sure that after that quarter century, we're not paying 78 cents on the dollar in benefits, we're paying 100 percent on the dollar.
BAIER: Right. But last year, for the first time since the '80s -- excuse me -- Social Security paid out more benefits than it took in payroll.
BAIER: And, essentially, and correct me if I'm wrong, the Social Security Trust Fund is a pile of IOUs from the government, that was taken from Congress' past that have already borrowed that money and spent on other programs. So, eventually, you have to pay that back. Is that not accurate?
BECERRA: Well, OK, this is -- this is the best way for me to display this for you. Do you have a wallet?
BAIER: Not on me.
BECERRA: Well, let me pull this out. Five-dollar bill, right? OK. It's just a piece of paper but it says $5 on it.
OK. Let me show you something else. This is a $50 savings bond. My daughter got it when she was born 16 years ago.
Both of these are pieces of paper. This is a Treasury certificate, this is a dollar. Both of them rely on the full faith and credit of the United States to be covered. If I try to cash either one of these in, it's only because the federal government says you can count on getting paid.
That's what Social Security has to the tune of $2.5 trillion. So when people say that Social Security has no money, they're saying to you that for the last 30 some odd years politicians have been stealing the money out of Social Security. It's there. Ask China, because China has these as well and they expect to be paid. Social Security expects to be paid.
And, by the way, you and I expect to be paid.
BAIER: Sure. But with 10,000 baby-boomers retiring every day for the next 19 years and with people living longer, and Social Security trustees report says the program will not be able to pay fully beginning in 2036, eventually, you're going to have to deal with this program. And you have the White House saying, why not now?
BECERRA: And we could. But you have to do it in strengthening Social Security, not paying for deficit that the Social Security and Social Security beneficiaries had anything to do with. That's the difficulty that Democrats had with what Republicans are proposing. Republicans want to put Social Security and Medicare on the table.
You just heard Senator McConnell say we need to put the two programs on the table to deal with deficit and debt of today. And Democrats are saying wait a second. Whoa!
Every day an American works, when he or she pays a FICA tax out of the paycheck, it's going to Social Security and Medicare. Why when it's paid for system should it now have to pay for deficits that were caused by Bush tax cut to wealthy, unpaid for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
That's the big rub.
BAIER: You're against any changed consumer price index, changed CPI, consumer price index change, that would -- which is essentially adjusting benefits for what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says is overstated inflation? You're against that?
BECERRA: If you -- are you parents still alive? Grandparents still alive?
BECERRA: OK. Do they have the same healthcare cost that you do? They don't. Seniors have higher healthcare cost than someone your age or my age. What's going to happen if you change the CPI, the backdoor cut to Social Security? Why?
Because while you and I are nimble enough still to make a consumer choice to say not buy a Mercedes Benz and buy a Ford -- less expensive Ford vehicle, a senior can't decide, I need to find a substitute for health care. I need health care. And so, the changed CPI does exactly, it changed seniors to lower benefits, which is unfair to them because they worked for those Social Security benefits.