Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), an outspoken proponent of cutting Social Security who has referred to it as a "ponzi" scheme, has not always been so hostile toward the program. As a senator in 1996, Simpson authored an amendment acknowledging that Social Security is a self-financed program that doesn’t add to the federal budget deficit, and states that recipients deserve reassurance that their benefits will not be cut.
Simpson's amendment, filed as part of the Immigration Control and Financial Responsibility Act of 1996, includes a non-binding "sense of the Senate" proposal which states that it "shall specifically prevent social security benefits from being reduced or social security taxes from being increased to meet the balanced budget requirement." The full text of the amendment is included below.
It highlights a dramatic shift in both tone and substance for Simpson, who is currently touring the country insisting that deep cuts to Social Security and an embrace of austerity are necessary to stave off a fiscal crisis.
The former senator did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Simpson co-chaired President Barack Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010, along with former Clinton Administration official Erskine Bowles. The group produced a report advocating cuts to entitlements, among other areas, but the report was never officially endorsed by the whole commission.
Some of Simpson's recent statements about Social Security appear to directly contradict the language of his 1996 amendment. In May, he told members of the financial industry that Social Security is "not a retirement program" and that it was never intended to be one. In the amendment, however, he specifically refers to Social Security as "the only pension program for 60 percent of older Americans."
Additionally, the amendment notes the large surplus in Social Security's trust fund and the mechanisms in place to protect it from being raided, and it states that "the American people overwhelmingly reject arbitrary cuts in social security benefits." Yet, his support for cuts and warnings about the trust fund have been central to his recent advocacy on the issue.
Nancy Altman, the co-director of Social Security Works, suggested that Simpson's warnings about Social Security's solvency are exaggerated. "Social Security has been fine in the near term, and everyone understands the baby boom is retiring. That was fully taken into account."
She added, "It would be very hard to make the case that somehow things have radically changed, because they have not."
The White House and leading Democratic members of Congress have declared Social Security to be off the table in negotiations to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff." But it remains unclear whether changes to the program will be part of the final package.
Simpson is a co-founder of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a group that has raised more than $60 million to lobby members of Congress for a deal that includes cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare.
SIMPSON AMENDMENT NO. 3672
(1) social security is supported by taxes deducted from workers' earnings and matching deductions from their employers that are deposited into independent trust funds;
(2) over 42,000,000 Americans, including over 3,000,000 children and 5,000,000 disabled workers and their families, receive social security benefits;
(3) social security is the only pension program for 60 percent of older Americans;
(4) almost 60 percent of older beneficiaries depend on social security for at least half of their income and 25 percent depend on social security for at least 90 percent of their income;
(5) 138,000,000 American workers pay taxes into the social security system;
(6) social security is currently a self-financed program that is not contributing to the Federal budget deficit; in fact, the social security trust funds now have over $400,000,000,000 in reserves and that surplus will increase during fiscal year 1995 alone by an additional $70,000,000,000;
(7) these current reserves will be necessary to pay monthly benefits for current and future beneficiaries when the annual surpluses turn to deficits after 2018;
(8) recognizing that social security is currently a self-financed program, Congress in 1990 established a `firewall' to prevent a raid on the social security trust funds;
(9) raiding the social security trust funds would further undermine confidence in the system among younger workers;
(10) the American people overwhelmingly reject arbitrary cuts in social security benefits; and
(11) social security beneficiaries throughout the nation deserve to be reassured that their benefits will not be subject to cuts and their social security payroll taxes will not be increased as a result of legislation to implement a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution.
(b) Sense of the Senate.--It is the sense of the Senate that any legislation required to implement a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution shall specifically prevent social security benefits from being reduced or social security taxes from being increased to meet the balanced budget requirement.