Hatch Voices Opposition to Social Security Advisory Board Chairman Nomination
In Speech on Senate Floor, Utah Senator Says, “Given all the challenges facing Social Security, this type of advice is crucial. The Board Chair must be able to work toward gathering bipartisan consensus and avoid turning the Social Security Advisory Board into just another platform for political division and partisan rhetoric. Therefore, it is necessary to consider Dr. Aaron’s nomination from the perspective of bipartisanship.”
WASHINGTON - In a speech on the Senate floor today, Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) reiterated his opposition to the nomination of Dr. Henry Aaron to chair the Social Security Advisory Board.
“Throughout much of his writings, Dr. Aaron has, far more often than not, opted for partisanship over sound policy. This not only makes me question his ability to be bipartisan, it also leads to question his judgment on policy issues,” said Hatch.
Below is the text of Hatch’s full speech delivered on the Senate floor today:
Mr. President, today the Senate will vote on three nominees to positions on the Social Security Advisory Board.
Two of these nominees – Alan Cohen and Lanhee Chen – are well suited for these positions, and, that being the case, I support their nominations.
However, I plan to vote against the remaining nominee, Dr. Henry Aaron, who the President ultimately intends to serve as Chair of the Board. I’d like to take just a few minutes today to explain why I have reached this decision.
Over the past decade or so, Dr. Aaron has spent most of his time and efforts focusing on health care issues and advocacy. Indeed, the vast majority of writings that he offered in support of his nomination dealt with health care, not Social Security.
When the Finance Committee considered his nomination, I specifically asked Dr. Aaron if he had performed any Social Security analysis over the past decade. He couldn’t produce anything substantive along those lines.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with focusing one’s energies on health care instead of analyzing Social Security policy. However, given the specific focus of the Social Security Advisory Board, I am concerned about the extent to which Dr. Aaron has considered Social Security issues and analytical advances in the field over the past decade or more.
It appears to me that Dr. Aaron’s interests and skill-set make him better suited for a position in the health care arena, rather than advising on the current state of Social Security.
Dr. Aaron has written about Social Security more extensively in the past, but his conclusions were predominantly normative. And, his most recent Social Security writings too often imply that anyone disagreeing with his conclusions are dead wrong and likely have adverse motives.
In fact, this is a trend that pervades all of Dr. Aaron’s writings.
Far too often, in addition to reaching conclusions and making recommendations, Dr. Aaron finds it necessary to condemn potential critics, usually along partisan lines.
Of course, I’m not one to vote against a nominee simply because I disagree with their policy prescriptions or their analytical techniques. I generally believe in giving reasonable deference to the President on nominations, particularly those involving positions designed to provide advice to the President and his administration.
The Social Security Advisory Board, however, is set up to provide bipartisan advice on Social Security issues to Congress and the Social Security Commissioner, as well as the President.
Given all the challenges facing Social Security, this type of advice is crucial. The Board Chair must be able to work toward gathering bipartisan consensus and avoid turning the Social Security Advisory Board into just another platform for political division and partisan rhetoric.
Therefore, it is necessary to consider Dr. Aaron’s nomination from the perspective of bipartisanship.
Like I said, a nominee for Board Chair must demonstrate an ability to promote and garner bipartisan consensus. Unfortunately, the evidence does not convince me that Dr. Aaron would be able to set aside his partisan views and manage the Board in a bipartisan fashion that aims at consensus in both analysis and conclusions.
Throughout much of his writings, Dr. Aaron has, far more often than not, opted for partisanship over sound policy. This not only makes me question his ability to be bipartisan, it also leads to question his judgment on policy issues.
For example, he has recently advocated that the President disregard the Constitution and ignore the statutory limit on federal debt.
He has praised the President for ignoring the law by unilaterally deciding not to enforce provisions of the Affordable Care Act, identifying the administration’s failure to enforce law written by Congress and signed by the President himself as an act that “adroitly performs political jiu jitsu on Obamacare opponents.”
He has written that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), an agency with virtually unchecked power to ration Medicare spending, should be given even broader authority.
He has scolded states that have, fully within their rights, decided against expanding Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act rollout. Dr. Aaron used particularly vitriolic words to describe state officials who opted not to expand Medicaid, saying that: “Officials in many states have adopted a stance reminiscent of massive resistance, the South’s futile effort to block implementation of the Supreme Court’s decision banning school segregation.”
When I asked Dr. Aaron a question at his confirmation hearing about the caustic nature of some of his comments, he alluded to writings for newspapers and op-eds as avenues in which inclusion of politically charged rhetoric is the “coin of the realm.”
That may very well be the case, Mr. President. But, that doesn’t mean there’s a place for it on the Social Security Advisory Board. I have serious concern about Dr. Aaron’s ability to keep such rhetoric in check as he chairs a board that is, by statute, intended to exhibit impartiality.
Once again, our Social Security system faces a number of fiscal and structural challenges. If we’re going to address these challenges, we need serious discussions that will lead to serious solutions, not more partisanship.
Dr. Aaron has not convinced me that he is the one to help lead these types of discussions.
For these reasons, I intend to vote against his confirmation.
I yield the floor.
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