Frustrations rose on the Senate Finance Committee as Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) questioned Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about President Joe Biden’s intention concerning Social Security, which is projected to become insolvent in nine years.
During the March 16 hearing, Cassidy zeroed in on the apparent lack of consideration for the ailing retirement program in the president’s 2024 budget proposal. He also vented frustration over repeated unsuccessful attempts to schedule bipartisan meetings with Biden to discuss the matter.
“Is the president aware that when Social [Security] goes broke in nine years, under current law, there’s a 24 percent cut in benefits for people who are currently receiving?” Cassidy said.
More pointed questions followed.
“Of the $4.5 trillion in taxes the president has proposed, are any of those taxes going to shore up Social Security?” Cassidy asked.
Then, “Why doesn’t the President care?”
Yellen began to say that the president stands ready to work with Congress on fixing Social Security, but Cassidy interrupted mid-sentence.
“That’s a lie,” he said, telling Yellen that a bipartisan group of senators has made multiple requests to meet with the president about Social Security but has received no reply.
“So if you’ve been told to say that he stands ready to me, I will tell you there’s absolutely no evidence because we have not gotten our meeting,” Cassidy said.
At the conclusion of the exchange, Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued a warning on decorum.
“I would just caution colleagues that there are plenty of differences here, but accusing witnesses of lying is over the line,” Wyden said.
Cassidy defended his statement saying, “I did not mean that for the Madame Secretary, who was merely saying what she’s been told.”
The next speaker, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), broke the tension, saying lightheartedly, “Welcome to the Finance Committee, Secretary Yellen.”
Cassidy was not alone in voicing concern about the future of the nation’s popular retirement program and asking that the president take action.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had earlier questioned Yellen on Biden’s intention to safeguard Social Security.
“The president’s budget includes no proposal to extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund,” Grassley said.
“Can Congress expect to see the president’s proposal to put Social Security on a sound fiscal basis, replicating the leadership of President [Ronald] Reagan and Tip O’Neill?” said Grassley, who has served in the Senate since 1981, when the Republican Reagan was president and Massachusetts Democrat O’Neill was Speaker of the House.
“President Biden stands ready to work with Congress to shore up Social Security and discuss possible approaches. So that’s a conversation that it’s important for us to have,” Yellen said.