Dick Durbin Wants a New Social Security-Cutting Commission

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 27 2012 1:53 PM

Dick Durbin Wants a New Social Security-Cutting Commission

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin spoke at the Center for American Progress this morning and drew a line:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

We won’t privatize Social Security and turn it over to Wall Street to run.
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Well, okay. Who's suggesting that now? Durbin nixed this possibility to propose his own:

I believe we need a new bipartisan commission to recommend a plan to keep Social Security solvent for the next 75 years.
The commission should have a reasonable amount of time – eight months to a year – to present a plan to Congress.
Congress should vote on the commission’s plan and any other bipartisan plan that makes Social Security solvent for 75 years. Whatever plans wins the most votes – beyond the 60 votes you need to pass anything of significance in the Senate – is the plan that ought to move forward.

He was evoking the grand fable of modern Washington, the 1983 Social Security reform panel that was formed after Democrats gained back some House seats by campaigning against Ronald Reagan. It's the panel that everyone harks back to when he/she needs to punt, because that one time, it worked. "My first day on the job," recalled Durbin, "I was told: In six months, Social Security will be broke." But it was fixed! The system works. Usually the story is told with dewey-eyed invocations of Tip O'Neill* and Ronald Reagan, but Durbin's version is more streamlined -- Congress passed "a series of modest, bipartisan changes that added decades of solvency to Social Security."

But at that point in time, Social Security solvency was a problem all its own. Durbin's suggesting that it become a bargaining chip, knowing that Republicans can't tell their base that they signed onto a tax deal unless they cut the welfare state in some way. Does a commission satisfy them? Given that the last commission, the successful one, raised FICA taxes?

*I somehow muffed this originally and wrote "Tim."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.