Ways and Means to take up Social Security benefits bill

While the measure is widely backed on Capitol Hill, its cost has drawn criticism

The bill from Rep. Rodney Davis would get rid of two provisions that could limit benefits for former public sector workers or their spouses. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The bill from Rep. Rodney Davis would get rid of two provisions that could limit benefits for former public sector workers or their spouses. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 19, 2022 at 6:16pm

The House Ways and Means Committee will on Tuesday consider a widely backed bill that would scrap provisions under current law that shrink Social Security payouts for some beneficiaries with government pensions.

The bill from Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., would get rid of two provisions that aim to prevent overly generous benefits for former public sector workers or their spouses who qualify for government pensions but may also be entitled to Social Security payments.

The “windfall elimination provision” limited Social Security for 2 million people who qualified for benefits and had a separate pension as of December 2021, according to a Congressional Research Service memo.

The “government pension offset” reduces benefits for a spouse or widow who has a government pension, aiming to replicate how Social Security paid to a spouse or widow is typically curtailed based on their own benefits under the program. That provision impacted almost 724,000 people as of December, the CRS said.

As currently written, Davis’ bill would get rid of both restrictions for benefits payable after December 2021.

Because it would lead Social Security to pay out more in benefits, it would accelerate the timeline for when the program is expected to become insolvent by a year, to 2034, Social Security Chief Actuary Stephen C. Goss said in a July letter to the bill’s proponents. The SSA actuaries estimated that the measure would drain the Social Security trust fund by $146 billion over a decade, although the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t weighed in with a formal cost estimate yet.

The measure’s backers say it would get rid of unfair provisions that can dock benefits for public employees. The bill’s lead Democratic co-sponsor, Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, joined with Davis, fellow lawmakers and groups representing police, teachers and federal, state and local workers at a news conference in late July calling on leadership to put the bill on the House floor.

“No American should be penalized because of their public service,” Spanberger said. She said the two provisions reduced benefits for about 58,000 people in her home state of Virginia in 2020.

Spanberger is among Democrats whose seats are considered in play in this November’s midterm elections; Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates her race Tilt Democratic.

While the bill is widely backed on Capitol Hill, its cost has drawn criticism. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a group of deficit hawks, argued in July that while the provisions that Davis’ bill would eliminate are imperfect, getting rid of them would lead to significant overpayments and weaken Social Security’s finances. The group said striking the provisions would also disproportionately benefit higher-income households.

While often a sign that legislation is advancing, Ways and Means’ decision to mark up the measure could instead slow it down. The bill has amassed 299 co-sponsors, giving it enough support for a motion to place it on the “consensus calendar” in mid-July.

The consensus calendar is a procedural tool for bringing bills to the floor, which is open to lawmakers with bipartisan bills that draw enough co-sponsors to reach at least two-thirds of House lawmakers. Twenty-five legislative days after Davis’ motion to put his bill on the consensus calendar, it would’ve been added and eligible for a speedier vote.

Committee consideration strips the bill from the process, so Ways and Means’ markup means Davis can no longer fast-track his measure to the floor without Democratic leaders’ consent.

Democrats have also said Ways and Means will consider a measure from Social Security Subcommittee Chair John B. Larson, D-Conn., but the panel has yet to mark up that bill, which has more than 200 Democratic co-sponsors.

‘Resolutions of inquiry’

Tuesday’s markup also includes six tax, trade and health care ‘resolutions of inquiry’ that would direct the Biden administration to provide information to the House.

They’d call on the Treasury secretary to provide documents related to international negotiations on reallocation of taxing rights that the U.S. hopes will stave off new foreign taxes on digital business; produce documents on pandemic stimulus payments; and send a copy of an IRS memo on the decision to destroy about 30 million paper filings in March 2021.

Others would request information related to a World Trade Organization intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines; require the Health and Human Services secretary to send communications with the White House related to new guidance for a rule change addressing the so-called family glitch in determining health insurance premium subsidies; and direct the Labor secretary to transmit documents from March 2020 and onward related to pandemic unemployment insurance funds and fraud by criminal organizations and in foreign countries.

All of the resolutions are sponsored by Republicans.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.