Maryland Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen is supporting new legislation to expand Social Security benefits — but past critics are questioning his apparent change in position amid a competitive race for the seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
Van Hollen, co-sponsor of legislation to raise taxes on higher-earning individuals in order to offer more generous Social Security benefits and a larger trust fund, declared Wednesday, "You don’t save Social Security by cutting Social Security," The Washington Post reports.
He even proposed an amendment to the House budget Wednesday night to specify that Social Security benefit cuts are off limits, though it died in committee, the Post reports.
But liberal Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards, who's also running for the Democratic nomination for Mikulski's seat and has the support of progressive groups — needled Van Hollen in a campaign email afterward, reminding supporters she deserves the backing of those committed to protecting Social Security, the Huffington Post reports.
"This morning, I joined with my colleagues in reintroducing an important bill that would protect and expand Social Security," she wrote. "There were a number of new faces, but I have always been there.
"As an original co-sponsor of the Social Security 2100 Act to expand Social Security benefits, I am thrilled that more and more elected officials are recognizing that too many of America's seniors live on the edge. Too many Democrats — to say nothing of Republicans — remain all too willing to hurt grandparents, retired veterans, and the disabled in the name of 'compromise.'"
One advocate who's criticized Van Hollen on Social Security told the Post he's pleased the lawmaker now supports expansion.
"We’re in full agreement," Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, told the Post, warning, however, Van Hollen's earlier support for a commission that would have cut Social Security "is going to be remembered as support for cuts to earned benefits, and it will take a lot of effort to try to unwind that."
Van Hollen in 2012 supported budget negotiations based on the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan, which would have offered smaller Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and raised the retirement age.
But during those talks, Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat of the House Budget Committee, opposed cutting Social Security as a way of cutting the deficit, and along with most of the House, voted against Simpson-Bowles on the House floor, the Post notes.
Yet liberal groups that've been critical of Van Hollen for his past stance — including Lawson's organization, as well as MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Credo Action and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee — are pressing the lawmaker for more, the Huffington Post reports.
"Van Hollen's support for the expansion of Social Security will mean little if, when push comes to shove, he supports a deal to cut benefits, as he has said he was open to considering in the past," Becky Bond, political director at Credo Action, said in a statement to the Huffington Post.
"Van Hollen will have ample opportunity on the campaign trail to speak directly to the voters of Maryland and we hope he takes this opportunity to make a clear and public promise to vote no on any legislative proposal that includes cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits."
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