WASHINGTON (AP) — The senator representing Democrats on the Budget Committee vowed Friday to fight efforts by Republicans to prevent money dedicated to paying retirement benefits from being shifted to the disabled.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, said that a recent procedural move by House Republicans could lead to a 20 percent cut in Social Security disability benefits for 11 million people.
In the past, lawmakers have reallocated money between the disability and retirement funds, but House Republicans orchestrated a rules change that would make it more difficult to do so unless it's part of a larger plan to shore up Social Security's finances with benefit cuts or tax hikes.
The disability program is on track to go into the red next year unless Washington steps in to prop it up.
"This is totally unacceptable. When we talk about Social Security today, what we should be talking about is expanding benefits not cutting benefits," Sanders said. "The Social Security disability program is an insurance policy that guarantees income to workers who become permanently disabled and can no longer work."
Republicans say shifting retirement benefits to the disabled amounts to a "raid" on the much larger pension program. They say lawmakers need to step in and fix the disability shortfall rather than shift money around.
Sanders replaced Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., as the Democrats' the top member on the Budget Committee, even though he technically is an independent. Sanders, who has been making trips to early presidential primary states, organizes with the Democratic caucus.
Republicans have retaken the Senate for the first time in eight years.
The congressional budget process typically is a partisan exercise in which the majority party drives through a budget along party lines. With Democrat Obama in the White House, however, many observers assume a budget stalemate may grip the Capitol.
Sanders, who once characterized himself as a socialist, promised to use his new platform to combat income inequality and cuts to social programs.