WASHINGTON – Social Security recipients in Western New York suddenly have good contacts in high places.
Both Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, and Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, will serve on the House Social Security Subcommittee in the new Congress and Reed will be the leader of the panel's Republican minority. The two lawmakers announced their new positions on Thursday.
Both lawmakers serve on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees Social Security. And their new roles on the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee will mean a growing legislative role for both.
On that panel, Higgins plans to consider a more generous way to measure inflation so that seniors would get bigger annual raises.
"Social Security recipients will spend that money," Higgins said. "Any increase will find its way back into the economy."
House Democrats, who took control of the chamber in last November's election, have expressed interest in indexing Social Security to the federal government's Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, which more accurately mirrors the actual costs seniors pay for health care, housing and other items. Their annual Social Security increase currently depends on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, a more general measure.
Meanwhile, some Republicans have favored moving to a "chained" Consumer Price Index which would mean lower raises, as it takes into account the fact that sometimes shoppers choose lower-cost replacement products when what they had been using gets more expensive.
Asked if Reed favors the chained Consumer Price Index concept, Reed spokesman Will Reinert said he wants to "keep all ideas on the table" as the panel tries to find ways to ensure Social Security's long-term fiscal health.
Reed said stabilizing Social Security's finances will be among his top priorities. With the Baby Boom generation aging, Social Security is on target to run out of reserves in 2034, meaning a restructuring of benefits or increased payroll taxes will likely be necessary before then.
While Reed promised to work on a bipartisan basis for a long-term Social Security fix, he also said he plans to focus on short-term goals aimed at helping today's beneficiaries.
"How can we deliver benefits more effectively?" he asked. "How can we administer the Social Security Administration in a 21st Century manner, utilizing technology resources, the power of computing, making sure that we have a Social Security Administration that is responding to beneficiaries in a real-time and most efficient and effective way?"
Higgins will continue to serve on the Ways and Means subcommittees on Health and Trade.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Higgins to continue serving on the House Budget Committee as well, giving him an unusually heavy committee workload -- and perhaps signaling there are no hard feelings between the two even though Higgins originally opposed Pelosi's bid to return to the speakership before changing his mind.
In addition, Higgins will continue to serve as an assistant whip – in other words, a vote-counter – for House Democrats. He served the largely ceremonial role of vice ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee in the last caucus, but that post rotates among members, so he will not serve in it in the new Congress.
Reed will also continue to serve on the Ways and Means subcommittees on Health and Human Resources.
Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican, will serve on no committees in the current House as he awaits his February 2020 trial on felony fraud and conspiracy charges in connection with an alleged insider stock trading scheme. Collins denies the charges and vows to fight them in court.
Collins' spokeswoman, Jennifer Brown, said he is disappointed that he is not on any committees, but stressed that he still serves on more than three dozen House caucuses, which are more informal groups that focus on particular subjects.
Stressing that committee work is less important for members of the minority, Brown added: "The Congressman is meeting regularly with constituents, traveling the district and meeting with many organizations that have business before Congress. He is also working with his team to continue to aggressively work on issues his constituents face in their dealings with the federal government.”