WASHINGTON – Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski called it “Occupy the Joint Committee” when seniors groups and activists, some toting alarm clocks, spilled into the hallways of the Dirksen Senate Office Building Thursday, to “wake up the Supercommittee,” who they fear will unfairly cut health care and Social Security to reduce the nation’s debt.
“Are we ready to fight?” Mikulski asked the standing-room-only crowd at the event in support of Social Security held with Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
The response? An emphatic “yes.”
“Social Security did not cause the deficit. It did not cause the debt,” Mikulski said. “My solution — let’s bring those troops home. Let’s bring our money back home, and let’s bring our jobs back home.”
Mikulski has spoken out about the unfairness of cutting programs like Social Security, which benefit vulnerable Americans. Members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, known as the supercommittee, have said that all federal programs should be on the table as they look for as much as $4 trillion in budget cuts.
The committee must decide on a plan by Wednesday to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit over 10 years. The expected cost of health care over the next several decades is the No. 1 driver of debt according to data from the Congressional Budget Office. Social Security costs are not expected to dramatically rise as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.
Republicans contend that the nation’s debt problem has been caused by government spending. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called on Congress to make cuts to Medicaid and Social Security during budget talks earlier this year, and Republicans have noted that raising taxes — something Democrats prefer to program cuts — would be disastrous for the economy.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, one of the 12 congressmen on the bipartisan committee, has said he favors health care reform that makes government programs like Medicare and Medicaid more efficient but doesn’t cause “unnecessary pain.”
Sanders, who was greeted with chants of “Bernie! Bernie!,” said raising the age for Social Security eligibility above 65 — something that has been discussed by the supercommittee — would make health insurance unaffordable for ineligible seniors stricken with diseases like cancer.
“I will be damned if we’re going to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor,” Sanders said.
Sanders cited two wars, tax cuts for the rich and reckless and illegal behavior on Wall Street as the cause of the deficit. Cuts by the supercommittee must be fair to all Americans, he said, even as committee members are surrounded by lobbyists and big money interests.
Crowd members this morning passed around copies of “The Occupied Washington Post” in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Several speakers said they see all the breaks going to the richest 1 percent of Americans while the other 99 percent struggle to get by.
“I think that the middle class, the middle-income families have not done well across the decade,” said Cardin, following the event. “The 1 percent can’t control the day. It’s got to be fair to the 100 percent.”
If the supercommittee can’t craft a plan by Wednesday, automatic cuts totaling $1.2 trillion will take effect in 2013. Experts have said that these across-the-board cuts would be disastrous, particularly to the middle class. Defense programs would get the bulk of the cuts. Social Security and Medicare, along with other benefits programs, would remain protected.