W&M Chair Jason Smith (R-MO) & MA Congressman Richie Neal

FOCUS NOW ON HOUSE WAYS & MEANS COMMITTEE W&M Chair Jason Smith (R-MO) & MA Congressman Richie Neal

Retirees Push for Including GPO Fix Within Bill

For the third straight congressional session, Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal has filed legislation that would reform the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The bill, HR4260, carries 98 initial House cosponsors – all of whom are Democrats.

Similar to what has transpired in the past two sessions, a Republican proposal to reform the WEP will likely be filed coinciding with Congress’s fall session getting underway after Labor Day. In the past, the Republican WEP Reform proposal was sponsored by Texas Congressman Kevin Brady, who retired at the end of the 2021-22 Congressional Session.

At this point it is unclear as to whether the issue will be claimed by current House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO) or another member of the Republican House caucus. Smith, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative and “firebrand” hailing from rural Missouri, has not previously signed onto or cosponsored legislation related to WEP or GPO. Beyond his known concern for the long-term fiscal stability of Social Security, Chairman Smith’s views on the specifics of WEP and GPO are unknown.

“While we are still upset that 2022 ended without a deal to reform WEP, we are thankful that Richie Neal remains focused on the issue and is doing what he can to ensure that public retirees are not forgotten. I think there is a general belief in Congress and within both main parties that WEP is unfair and must be changed. The differences surface when we get into the details, such as how to pay for the changes,” says Association President Frank Valeri. “What is most disappointing about how things ended last year is the fact that it was a lost opportunity to help those retirees who have been harmed by the WEP law. Ideological rigidness and partisanship prevented compromise on how to pay for WEP reform.

“It also does not help matters that some retiree organizations and newly formed online advocacy groups continue to take an all or nothing approach. Insisting on nothing short of full repeal of both WEP and GPO will only lead to failure. We would love to achieve full repeal, but the truth is that it is extremely unlikely to happen. National public support is not on our side.”

Given the current makeup of Congress, which is gripped by Republican infighting within the House and an all-time high of partisanship, action on any legislation regarding Social Security is highly unlikely during the current session. The fact that the country is on the eve of another contentious presidential election is also a factor that makes action on Social Security unlikely prior to 2025.

That being the case, Mass Retirees has shifted its focus toward strengthening the existing reform proposals to include both WEP and GPO.

“We have urged Congressman Neal to work on a revision of his proposal (HR4260) to include a reform of the GPO alongside the WEP. As we all know far too well, the impact of the GPO can often be financially devasting. This is especially true for widows, who not only face the loss of their spouse but also the financial hardship that comes from loss of the Social Security benefit,” explains Mass Retirees CEO Shawn Duhamel. “As much as we want to see Congress pass these measures into law, the reality is that it is very much a long shot during the current session. Therefore, we should be using this time to develop realistic proposals that can pass both the House and US Senate once the political climate improves.”

National Support Exists for Reform

To date, four bills regarding WEP and/or GPO are now pending before Congress, with Neal’s WEP reform proposal being the latest filing. The bill joins HR82 and S597, each of which would fully repeal both WEP and GPO.

A fourth bill (HR4583), which focuses on a broad-based reform of Social Security, also contains a provision repealing both WEP and GPO – but for only a period of five years. Filed by Congressman John Larson (D-CT), HR4583 has 176 House cosponsors – all of whom are Democrats.

Efforts aimed at full repeal have continually been underway since the current WEP and GPO laws went into effect in 1983. Despite having super majority support in the House on multiple occasions, the proposal has never successfully been brought to the floor for a vote. HR82 currently has 288 cosponsors of the 435 House members. Of that number, 199 are Democrats and 89 Republican. During the past session (117th Congress), the full repeal proposal had 305 House cosponsors.

In the US Senate, where 60 votes are required to pass legislation involving Social Security, the highwater mark for Senate cosponsors is 46. S597 currently has 44 cosponsors, with 36 Democrats having cosponsored the full repeal bill, along with 5 Republicans and 3 Independents.

“Members ask why our Association does not get behind the full repeal legislation. The honest answer is that it would be disingenuous and dishonest for us to support a proposal that we know to be a dead end. We must be honest with our members, even when the facts are not what people want to hear,” added Duhamel.

“We have to face reality. After 40-years, the reality is that national support for full repeal does not exist – but it does exist for some type of reform. This is why our focus will continue to be on what we know to be achievable, not holding out for a perfect solution that is unlikely to happen – at least not within this current political climate.”

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