September 23, 2022: This week brought major developments in the nationwide fight to repeal or reform the Social Security WEP and GPO laws. One of these developments was history making.
On Tuesday, the House Committee on Ways and Means voted to release from committee H.R. 82 – federal legislation that would fully repeal both the WEP and GPO. Action by the Committee was spurned by the fact that H.R. 82 gained the 290 House cosponsors required for the bill to be placed on the House Consensus Calendar (the process was created in 2019, through House rules reform). By the time of this week’s hearing, support had grown to 300 cosponsors.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge and congratulate the coalition of retiree advocates across the country, who have worked so tirelessly over the past two-years to gain cosponsors. We have always said that these issues cannot be solved by Mass Retirees alone. These efforts have helped place a spotlight on the issues of WEP and GPO, culminating with the first-ever release of a WEP/GPO bill by Ways and Means since the laws were created in 1983. That alone is an accomplishment!
However, as the report of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and subsequent public statements by Committee members (from both parties) during Tuesday’s hearing should make clear, passage of full repeal legislation in 2022 – or anytime in the near future – is highly unlikely.
Beyond the fact that Senate Republican leaders remain staunchly opposed to full repeal, the CBO report has provided an updated financial analysis on both the short and long-term cost of full repeal. According to the CBO, the 10-year cost of fully repealing WEP & GPO is estimated to be $183 billion. Social Security had previously estimated the cost to be approximate $147 billion over 10-years. With no new funding mechanism in place to pay these costs, the stability of the Social Security Trust Fund is called into question.
As members know, 60 votes are required in the US Senate for any bill related to Social Security. Even if we managed to gain the support of all 50 Democrats, we would still need 10 Republican Senators to break with their leadership and vote for full repeal. As Frank Valeri and I explain in the September Voice, this is highly unlikely to happen.
We continue to believe that reform of the WEP law is the only viable option currently available. WEP reform would benefit the nearly 2 million public retirees who have had their Social Security benefits reduced by the federal WEP law.
If you watch Tuesday’s hearing, you will hear several Committee members cite the cost and impact on the Trust Fund as reason why they cannot support full repeal. Others restated their belief that while the WEP is unfair, it should be reformed rather than repealed. Regardless of party or district represented, nearly every member who spoke indicated their support for a WEP compromise. Many expressed hope that the ongoing negotiations between Chairman Richie Neal and Ranking Member Kevin Brady would result in the passage of reform legislation in 2022.
As you know, our efforts have been focused on what we believe is possible to achieve – which is a WEP reform deal. We believe that if a bipartisan WEP reform bill were to pass the House, the support exists in the US Senate to pass it into law.
Unfortunately, the same cannot realistically be said for full repeal or even a reform of the GPO.
Over the past week alone, Mass Retirees and our allies the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) have been directly involved with the renewed negotiations between Mr. Neal and Mr. Brady. In fact, work took place throughout last weekend to strike a deal prior to Tuesday’s hearing. While the general premise of WEP reform has been agreed to by the parties, several critical details remain unresolved.
Two of the key sticking points that remain are the future application of the new Social Security formula that would be created by the new law, as well as the specific funding mechanism for new costs. The date for when the future formula would take effect for all retirees also remains a topic of negotiating, with Brady’s bill now calling for a 2062 implementation date.
It goes without saying, but we need the help and support of those retirees and organizations organized around H.R. 82. Some of these individuals and groups have taken an all or nothing approach to WEP and GPO repeal. They have been publicly unwilling to consider compromise.
I am afraid that the likely outcome of an all or nothing approach will result in no one being helped. We do not have the national public support nor the votes to achieve everything we would like to achieve. However, we do have the support and ability to cut a deal that brings needed relief to the 2 million retirees now harmed by the WEP, while fixing the formula for all future public retirees. We cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
The anger and frustration felt by many retirees is understandable. In fact, I share your anger and frustration.
However, we also must be realistic and pragmatic. Otherwise, no one is helped.
Progress was made this week. Make no mistake about it. Our collective work has kept these issues alive and will lead to relief for retirees harmed by WEP and GPO.
We will be sure to keep you updated as new information becomes available.
With great appreciation,
Chief Executive Officer
Mass Retirees Association