“Democrats were elected on the promise that they would defend Social Security against Republican attacks. Now is the moment of the truth.”

by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

A coalition of progressive advocacy groups on Monday launched a campaign urging every member of Congress to pledge to “never vote to cut Social Security or Medicare under any circumstances,” an effort that comes as House Republicans are weighing attacks on the two programs as part of their sweeping austerity spree.

Led by Social Security Works and More Perfect Union, the new campaign highlights the massive stakes of the ongoing showdown over the U.S. debt ceiling, which House Republicans have said they will refuse to raise unless congressional Democrats and the Biden White House agree to major federal spending cuts—including damaging changes to Social Security and Medicare.

Newly elected Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy holds the gavel after he was elected on the 15th ballot at the US Capitol

“To be clear, the debt ceiling legislation is not about new spending; it’s about paying our bills,” the progressive groups said Monday. “Failure to raise the debt limit will not only wreck the nation’s economy; it will wreck the economy of the whole world.”

In a launch video for their campaign, the progressive coalition includes footage of Republican lawmakers expressing support for raising the retirement age—a move that would cut Social Security spending across the board—and falsely blaming “entitlements” for the ballooning national debt as Congress hurtles toward another round of debt ceiling brinkmanship.

“Democrats were elected on the promise that they would defend Social Security against Republican attacks,” said Alex Lawson, the executive director of Social Security Works. “Now is the moment of the truth. Democrats must refuse to cut Social Security. And they must refuse to create a mechanism—such as a closed-door commission—to cut Social Security down the road.”

The campaign was launched ahead of President Joe Biden’s planned Wednesday meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has joined the far-right flank of his caucus in pushing for federal spending cuts as a condition for raising the borrowing limit.

In a Sunday appearance on “Face the Nation,” McCarthy suggested that he won’t insist on cuts to Social Security or Medicare in talks with the president, saying, “Let’s take those off the table.”

But the Republican leader went on to say that while Biden has expressed opposition to including Social Security or Medicare changes in any debt ceiling legislation, “we’ve got to make sure we strengthen those.” When pressed, McCarthy declined to elaborate on what he meant by “strengthen.”

In response to McCarthy’s comments, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said that McCarthy’s “slip—and his evasiveness after—is the latest giveaway that House Republicans have been telling the truth over the last year as they reiterate time and again that they want to cut Medicare and Social Security.”

“For years, congressional Republicans have advocated for slashing earned benefits using Washington code words like ‘strengthen,’ when their policies would privatize Medicare and Social Security, raise the retirement age, or cut benefits,” Bates added. “It’s like saying, ‘You’re not being laid off—we just want to make a change.’ House Republicans refuse to raise revenue from the wealthy, but insist they will ‘strengthen’ earned benefits programs. You do the math. They have—they just won’t show you.”

While many congressional Democrats have publicly said they would join the White House in opposing any proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare, at least one lawmaker—Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—has floated the possibility of cutting a deal with the GOP on the programs, an idea adamantly rejected by the progressive groups behind the new pressure campaign.

“It is critical for the Democrats to stay united and stand their ground against this latest effort to gut Social Security and Medicare,” said Faiz Shakir, executive editor at More Perfect Union.

On their new website, the progressive groups will keep a running tally of the lawmakers who have taken the pledge to oppose Social Security and Medicare cuts, as well as those who are “equivocating” or outright “refusing” to make the promise.

“The only way that Democrats can win this game of chicken is if they stay united and do not blink,” the groups said. “Standing with the overwhelming majority of the American people against all cuts to Social Security and Medicare should be the easiest promise any politician can make, so let’s make them promise.”