Tensions flared on Capitol Hill last week when Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) snapped at Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, calling into question her assertion that President Joe Biden stands ready to collaborate with Congress to ensure the future solvency of Social Security, as The Hill reports.
The incident took place during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, and it resulted in Cassidy receiving words of reprimand from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chair of the panel.
The controversy erupted during a discussion of Biden's proposed budget, when Cassidy wondered aloud whether the president has any concern whatsoever about the dangers facing Social Security.
“What, doesn't the president care?” Cassidy inquired of Yellen, and she replied that Biden “cares very deeply.”
When asked where Biden's plan was to tackle the sustainability issues plaguing the massive entitlement, Yellen asserted, “[h]e stands ready to work with Congress...,” and that is when Cassidy interjected forcefully.
“That's a lie,” Cassidy railed, adding, “[b]ecause when a bipartisan group of senators has repeatedly requested to meet with him about Social [Security] so that someone who is a current beneficiary will not see her benefits cut by 24%, we have not heard anything on our request.”
Seemingly taken somewhat aback by Cassidy's frustrated demeanor, Wyden said, “I would just caution colleagues, we've got plenty of differences around here, but accusing witnesses of lying is over the line” and a breach of Senate decorum.
Cassidy attempted to explain his comment, saying, “I accept that, and I did not mean that for the Madam Secretary, who is merely saying that which she's been told, I'm saying it for an empiric observation – when the president says he's ready to meet, then he's turned down....” but Wyden was not placated.
Adopting a stern tone, Wyden said, “The time of the gentleman is expired. Accusing witnesses of lying is over the line.”
Addressing the kerfuffle later on, Cassidy maintained that he did not insinuate that Yellen had lied, but merely took issue with the guidance she had been given from the administration. “Whoever gave that talking point either doesn't know that there's been multiple attempts to speak to [Biden] or knows it and decided it's better pub[licity] to say something different.”
The bipartisan group referenced by Cassidy is, as The Hill has reported, a cadre of Senators that has been working on possible changes to Social Security for quite some time.
Though no concrete details of their negotiations have emerged, there have been reports that adjustments to the retirement age for benefit recipients are under consideration.
The Washington Examiner pointed out that talks have been taking place for approximately two years but have taken on a new sense of urgency in light of a warning from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) indicating that the Social Security trust fund could reach insolvency by 2033 unless changes are made.
To that end, the notion of raising the retirement age to 70 from the current age of 67 for those born after 1960 is reportedly something that has been floated within the group.
Cassidy is not the only lawmaker frustrated with the Biden administration on the issue of Social Security, as Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) recently slammed the president for deciding to, as he put it, “demagogue” the topic during his February State of the Union address, according to The Hill.
During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Kennedy told host Shannon Bream, “Now, Medicare is going to start getting in trouble financially in 2028. Social Security in 2035, I think. We should be taking now how to make sure that those programs are solvent.”
“The problem is that President Biden in his State of the Union address decided to demagogue the issue. We all saw it,” Kennedy said. “We all saw it. He basically said, if you talk, talk – speaking to Republicans – if you talk about Social Security or Medicare, I'm going to call you a mean, bad person. And that just took the issue of the table when the president decided to demagogue it.”
In his characteristically folksy style, Kennedy lamented the current state of affairs regarding the subject, adding, “There are a lot of things we could talk about, but President Biden has taken that issue totally off the table. He says he has fixed it in his budget, and that's nonsense. That's nonsense on a stick,” an assertion with which Sen. Cassidy could likely not agree more.