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Molinaro calls for Social Security commission, but declines to discuss specifics

Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-19) says he wants a federal commission to propose solutions to maintain Social Security, but decline to discuss specifics.
Vaughn Golden
Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-19) says he wants a federal commission to propose solutions to maintain Social Security, but declines to discuss specifics.

House Republicans have introduced a proposal to start negotiations with the Biden administration over the debt limit and federal spending. The proposal includes a number of cuts and spending limits on discretionary spending, but not to programs like Social Security.

Still, advocacy groups are putting pressure on Republicans like freshman Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-19) over Social Security. Molinaro continues to push back saying he doesn’t support addressing Social Security as part of the debt limit negotiations, but he embraces a commission to address the long-term existence of the program.

Molinao discussed Social Security and how to keep the program paying out benefits with WSKG’s Vaughn Golden.

Vaughn Golden  

This is WSKG News, I'm Vaughn Golden. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have brought up a familiar topic in Congress right now and that is addressing Social Security reforms. Here to discuss his point of view when it comes to the continuance of Social Security is New York 19th Congressional District Republican member of Congress, Marc Molinaro. Marc, thanks for coming on.

Marc Molinaro  

Glad to be with you. Thanks very much. 

VG: So you have been asked about this, including by myself, members of the public at your town halls and of course, in other areas as well over the last few months. This is your first year in Congress, I guess, just to reiterate, you have said that you do not support cuts to benefits for Social Security or really touching the program at all, when it comes to ongoing negotiations over the debt ceiling, or a budget or spending plan. But one thing you have floated is the idea of, or the concept of a bipartisan commission to address Social Security. Could you just kind of review what you mean by that?

MM: Sure. So first, let me reiterate and make it very clear. And I understand this. I know, the fear that seniors have now and I know the hope that future generations have that, as they age, Social Security, Medicare will be available, and so I'll be very clear, and I said this to Republican leadership, I do not support and will not support diminishing or undermining Medicare or Social Security. To answer the question, the way that we have to also, though confront long-term solvency, and the way to do that is the way we've always done it as a nation, bipartisan Republicans and Democrats, bicameral, House and Senate, working with the president over the next several years to develop a plan, not only for long-term solvency, but I will tell you, I speak very candidly about the need to ensure that Medicare in particular provides mental health parity. And so we ought to be talking about how we not only ensure long-term solvency and the security that American workers, Americans and American seniors will want. But how do we broaden access to ensure that we're investing effectively in preventative and intervention care in order to improve the quality of life, and by the way over time, control the cost. And there's ways to do that, but again, we do that through bipartisan, bicameral commission over a period of time, and let that get to work without and I don't want anyone being fearful in the context of of this conversation, we're having around debt limit and budget.

VG: Right. So I understand going back a number of years, these commissions have existed before, and I believe one of them ultimately led to pushing back the retirement age to its current state of 67 years old, for folks who were born after 1960. With this, this new commission that you're thinking of be similarly modeled around that?

MM: Well, I mean, not around a specific course of action... 

VG: Sure, sure. 

MM: ...a function. Yes. And I believe that that is the appropriate way to move forward. I'll tell you the Problem Solvers Caucus has talked about this in the past. The good governance wings of both the Republican and the Democratic conferences have talked about this. We really do need to get serious thinkers around the table, negotiating out a plan for long-term solvency. And I tell people, and it's only you know, I don't say, you know, just anecdotally, but you know, I come from the place where Social Security was born, in essence, the home and community of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I get it. I know, I certainly have helped seniors access Medicare, we continue to do Medicare enrollment. The way to ensure long-term solvency and security for Americans, as they age is through a nonpolitical, bipartisan, bicameral workforce commission to get a proposal together for long-term solvency. And again, I want to reiterate the concept of also broadening access, in particular to providing mental health care.

VG: Right. And we've seen, at least in my my time, I've heard attempts at this before. You know, most notably, Congressman Tom Reed at the time, he chaired the subcommittee on Social Security within Ways and Means, him and John Larson were both on that. And there was a lot of talk, there was a committee hearing where I think he held up some giant cup of coffee or something like that. But we never, we never saw anything happen. So is there, do you sense that there was an actual urge to do it this time or will the oxygen just get sucked out of this like it has in past years? 

MM: Well, just to be clear the times that we've had to do it right, we go back to the both the 80s and early 90s. When we've had to bridge across that divide, we have, and we've done it through bipartisan commissions. We're nearing that timetable, we have a couple of years. We also by the way through economic growth, getting people back into the workforce, perhaps even income and wage growth, which we're not seeing today, right, we're seeing wage contraction. But if we see some economic growth and new folks working, you'll provide new revenue, but we're at a point now where it's going to be a necessity, and we ought to take it as seriously as possible, and spend that time appropriately negotiating bipartisan, bicameral, with the president toward a proposal for long-term solvency. And again, I'm going to reiterate the need to include and encourage mental health care.

VG: Right, and so the date that we have on on insolvency for Social Security, I think kind of ranges between 2033 and 2037. But, you know, somewhere in the timeframe where I definitely won't have a hairline anymore. My jokes are funny, thank you for the courtesy laugh.

MM: They are, they're moderately funny. You know, I have a whole collection of dad jokes.

VG: Oh, god, please don't.

MM: I won't.

VG: But to kind of get into the meat of some of the things that that this commission could consider one of the most, at least things that folks get a little, a little frustrated with is the idea of increasing the retirement age. Where do you fall, you know, if this goes to a commission, and that commission presents recommendations, if one of those recommendations were increasing the retirement age, again, that's currently 67 for folks born after the year 1960. Is that something that you could support?

MM: What I'm not doing now is embracing any specific solution, or proposal, I want to see it in the context of that negotiation. Now, admittedly, I'm a freshman member of the House. I'm not likely to be in the middle of that table, at that table, negotiating. So my focus has been to say these, these three things, and these are the guide rails for me as I, as I advocate for the people I represent. One, can't default on America's debt, and Social Security, Medicare off the table. That is a real reality for me. I've made very clear to Republican leadership and the House leadership. Second, long-term solvency addressed through a commission, bipartisan, bicameral. And thirdly, the need to ensure that we provide greater access to mental health care. So, if you're asking me the thing that I'm advocating for, it is solvency and, and expanding access to mental health care. And so I'm gonna push on that, in the hopes the commission gets established, I hope to be a part to creating such a commission. I want to move forward with that proposal. And then I'll just continue to advocate within those guide rails and see what, what comes from there.

VG: Is there anything though, that is off the table that you can reassure folks in the 19th district is off the table at this point? I mean, it's nice to, you know, say I want solvency. I would also love solvency, but you know, some of these nitty gritty details are going to might not be exactly the easiest pills to swallow. I think that's at least probably one of the things that's kept, you know, these reforms from happening for as many years as they have. So is there anything that's completely and utterly off the table that you can reassure constituents of at this point?

MM: Well, here's the thing, I share the same concern. There will be pills that I don't want to swallow and won't. And so again, rather than embracing or speaking to specific proposals, I want the commission to work. I want to commission, I want to be party to creating that commission. I want to advocate from certainly my role, and I want the commission to develop a proposal. I don't, I don't embrace making blue collar workers and folks who struggle really hard, have to struggle really harder in life, in order to access to the safety of Social Security and Medicare. I don't embrace that. And so all I tell you is, here's my advocacy. We need the commission, there needs to be solvency. We cannot overburden middle class, lower-income earners. We can't overburden and expect people to work well into their senior years in order to access the security and safety of Social Security, Medicare. And as I said, I'm gonna continue to advocate for mental health parity. And so that's my voice in this conversation.

VG: Is there a point where and again, we kind of have a ticking clock on this in granted, that's it within the next 10 years, and I don't know if Congress is capable of looking at a clock with a 10-year countdown on it, but if we don't get this commission, is there a point where Congress needs to say, okay, it's too late to form a commission on this, let's just start making piecemeal changes to Social Security. Do you see that getting to a point at anytime in the near future?

MM: Well you kind of I, it's kind of hard to embrace the context of that question. I mean, keeping in mind that I may not be a member of Congress in eight or 10 years, hopefully, hopefully long enough to leave, to get some work done. But of course, there's always going to be a point in time where if Congress does nothing, is going to be forced out of desperation to do something, which is why today, we're advocating because we have the time. And I want to say this as well, I mean, I think you know, this about me, I accept people coming at me with comments whether it's orchestrated, organized, I don't even mind if it's disingenuous, I'm fine with with you expressing your view and opinion, but be very clear, Medicare and Social Security is off the table in the current budget and debt limit conversations, because we have the time to develop a long-term solvency solution. And so, if you're protesting at me, I would say to you, you're probably protesting with me. In other words, you're saying the words I'm saying which are, this cannot be the conversation we have today, there needs to be a commitment to ensuring long-term solvency, and the way to do that is thoughtfully and professionally, in a bipartisan, bicameral commission. Of course, there's always going to be a point in time, where, out of desperation, somebody has to act. And I acknowledge the problem with Congress and legislatures in general, is they generally don't work until there's a fixed deadline that they see. I see the deadline, it may be a decade out, we see the deadline. Economic growth, get people into the workforce, develop the commission, work toward a solution, and then we don't have to work out of desperation, but rather out of actual thoughtful design.

VG: Would implementing a commission be on the table in the current debt ceiling and or spending package negotiations for you?

MM: Well, here, well, I want us to develop the commission. But again, my position is we can't default. And so we're in the process.

VG: But if the deal to create a commission were proposed as part of...

MM: I mean, if it's, I certainly would embrace the development of a commission, if there's support for that in the context of moving the needle. But again, my view on debt ceiling is we ought to be looking at discretion, discretionary or optional, if you will, or non-discretionary spending,

VG: Not Social Security.

MM: Yeah, yes, I want us to look at bending the spending curve with Medicare, Social Security off the table. That's my focus. And I, by the way, for those listening, I come at it, you know, from as a simple local elected official, who for 20 years, had to actually balanced a budget. There are programmatic spending like I could, I could argue that I hate New York... but those mandates are going to be established, those costs are exist. I don't have any control over that. I have to go look at the things I have control over to develop a plan that lives within our means. And so, I just say to you that I think it is perfectly appropriate in the context of debt ceiling and budget negotiation with the president, to develop a plan that bends the curve, but Medicare, Social Security, absolutely off the table and focus instead on a condition to develop a thought for long-term solvency.

VG: Got it. Alright, I've been speaking with 19 Congressional District Congressman Marc Molinaro. Marc, thanks for your time.

MM: You bet.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.