WASHINGTON — Democrats are making a pre-election pitch to give Social Security recipients a one-time payment of $250, part of a larger effort to convince senior voters that their party, and not Republicans, will best look out for the 58 million people who get the government retirement and disability benefits.
The $250 check is meant to make up for a second year without a cost-of-living increase due to low inflation.
President Barack Obama has urged Congress to approve the $250 payment. House and Senate Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid say they will bring up the legislation when lawmakers return for the lame-duck session in November. In the meantime, Democrats are using the proposal to augment their campaign pitch that Republicans would undermine Social Security.
“Instead of helping seniors,” Pelosi’s office said, “Republicans, backed by their allies on Wall Street, are threatening to privatize and cut Social Security, just as they tried to do under President Bush.”
Actually, 12 Democrats and one independent who aligns himself with Democrats joined 37 Republicans in blocking the $250 bonus when the Senate voted on the issue last March. Two of the Senate Democrats who voted against it then, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, are engaged in tough campaign battles to keep their seats.
“It’s clearly a last-ditch election-year Hail Mary,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. If supplementing the incomes of seniors was really a priority, he said, Democrats would have acted on it before they adjourned for the campaign.
Democrats may have the votes in the House to push through the measure, although still unanswered is how they plan to cover the estimated $13 billion to $14 billion cost of giving $250 to each of more than 50 million Social Security beneficiaries.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., characterized the choice between paying $13 billion to help seniors and $70 billion a year over 10 years to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts for those with annual incomes of more than $250,000.
“Senior citizens are hurting,” he said, and helping them out “is a good argument for Democrats and a good argument for Republicans.”