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Letter Opposing Social Security Benefit Cuts Up to 55 House Members, More Fireworks Planned

Brian Beutler notes that Raul Grijalva’s letter opposing any benefit cuts to Social Security has the support of 55 House Democrats, with more expected before tomorrow’s circulation deadline.

But this could just be a first step. I reported earlier this month that other options beyond a letter have been under discussion in the caucus:

An aide to Rep. Conyers believes this effort will be the “key organizing tool on this issue,” and identifies numerous progressive groups who have agreed to help push it, including many of the same groups involved in the Hands Off Social Security effort. They will whip the vote not only internally in the Progressive Caucus but throughout the Democratic caucus.

But there’s more. The ringleaders of this effort may try to move this to the floor in the form of a privileged resolution in September, forcing an up-or-down vote in the House. While some involved with the effort believe that the letter serves the same purpose as a privileged resolution, which would have to get a vote according to the rules of the House, Rep. Grijalva’s spokesman confirmed, “we’ve definitely thought about that avenue.” They want to see what kind of traction they get on the letter in the next couple weeks before committing to additional steps.

But a resolution would be a major raising of the stakes. As I’ve been documenting, Democrats have walked themselves into a box canyon by putting Social Security out front in the election campaign, and casting Republicans as the villains. By putting the question of benefit cuts up to a formal House vote, they can cement that dynamic by forcing Republicans to vote, essentially, for benefit cuts. But Democrats would have to make a choice that could affect their futures, as well, and right before an election. So clearly, a privileged resolution would be the “nuclear option” of this debate. It would be near-impossible for Democrats to vote against it in large numbers. And the deficit commission would have a hard copy of 230 or so votes against their preferred option.

There are multiple ways to do this. Right now Republicans, led by Steve King (R-IA), are accumulating signatures on a discharge petition to repeal the health care law. If King could get an absolute majority on the petition, he could force a vote onto the floor of the House. You could see this go the same way. A privileged resolution, much like Dennis Kucinich has done on several occasions to force votes onto the floor, as well as what John Boehner did earlier this year to get a vote to investigate the Democrats’ response to the Eric Massa story, would have a similar effect. Point being, there are ways to get a resolution on Social Security, getting people on the record about benefit cuts before the elections, onto the floor. And they are getting high-level consideration in Congress.

In a related story, union members protested potential cuts to Social Security in front of the Morgan Stanley offices. Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chair of the cat food commission, sits on their corporate board.

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David Dayen

David Dayen