House Republicans Put Heat on Disability Fund With Rules Change

Tampa, FL (Law Firm Newswire) February 26, 2015 - Coupled with a presidential hopeful’s remarks, the surprise move elevated Social Security as an issue.

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Republican lawmakers -- fresh from midterm elections that delivered the Senate to GOP control and expanded the party’s majority in the House -- returned to Capitol Hill in January, energized and eager to forward conservative legislation. And based on an opening day rules change that House Republicans sprung on their Democratic colleagues, it is clear that Social Security will be a major point of contention for the new session.

House Republicans signaled their intent to focus on the use of Social Security Administration revenues, or more specifically, the annual shifting of funds from the SSA’s larger retirement fund into the chronically deficit-ridden disability fund. 

But the language of the new House rule, which creates a point of order against any bill that does not improve the “actuarial balance” of the two funds, has Democrats concerned that Republicans are trying to pit pensioners against the disabled in order to curtail disability benefits.

In response, the White House and the Treasury have made it clear that they intend to continue reallocating funds from the retirement fund, formally known as the Old Age Survivors Insurance, to the disability fund in order to shore up the latter. Revenues for both are derived from payroll tax, from which each program draws a percentage.

“The two Social Security funds have resuscitated each other’s fortunes for years and, indeed, the disability fund took a reduced share of tax revenue for a period in the 1980s to help fill the retirement fund,” said David W. Magann, an attorney in Tampa, Florida who specializes in Social Security disability law. “So to say that revenue sharing between the two funds has been a one-way street would be inaccurate and unfair to the disabled.”

The rule change in the House, which Republicans approved without consulting Democrats in the chamber, paralleled a statement from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Paul told an audience in New Hampshire that, “Over half the people in disability are either anxious or their back hurts.” Paul, who is considered a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, went on to say this: “Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everyone over 40 has a back pain.”

Paul later backtracked from his remarks after a video recording was posted online, but the Kentuckian’s later comments did little to allay worries among Democrats that Republican conservatives are seeking to exploit problems within the disability fund to undermine the entire system.

“Senator Paul unfairly minimized the legitimate physical disabilities of Americans who have sustained very painful work-related injuries as well as the legitimate disabilities of Americans who have serious mental conditions,” Magann said. “One cannot characterize a person who has post-traumatic stress disorder as someone who is merely anxious.”

David W. Magann, P.A.
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