Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who has been accused by progressive groups of being in favor of cuts to Social Security, announced his backing Wednesday for a bill that would expand the program.
Van Hollen, who is running to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, supported past budget negotiations based on the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan, which would have offered stingier 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. Along with most of the House, he voted against Simpson-Bowles on the House floor.
Still, his support for the Simpson-Bowles framework was recalled with concern on the left when he announced his Senate campaign earlier this month.
Van Hollen tried to make his position clear at a news conference Wednesday. He is co-sponsoring the expansion bill, which would raise taxes on higher-earning individuals in order to offer more generous Social Security benefits and a larger trust fund. “You don’t save Social Security by cutting Social Security,” he said.
In case that wasn’t clear enough, he proposed an amendment to the House budget Wednesday night that would specify that Social Security benefit cuts are off-limits. It died in committee.
Maryland Rep. Donna F. Edwards, who is also running for the Democratic nomination for Mikulski’s Senate seat, appeared at the news conference and spoke in favor of the expansion legislation, as well. She is also a co-sponsor.
Ranked as one of the most liberal members of the House, Edwards was endorsed by several progressive groups before even entering the race.
Some advocates who had criticized Van Hollen on Social Security earlier said they were pleased at his comments on Wednesday.
“We’re in full agreement,” said Alex Lawson, executive director of the advocacy group Social Security Works.
He added, however, that the congressman’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.”