November 15,2018

Wyden Statement at Finance Committee Markup on Social Security and PBGC Nominations

The Finance Committee meets this morning to vote on three nominations: Andrew Saul to serve as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration; Gail Ennis to serve as the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration; and Gordon Hartogensis to serve as the Director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

First, on Mr. Saul’s nomination. If confirmed, Mr. Saul will be responsible for administering benefits to over 69 million seniors, people with disabilities, and other Americans who earned their Social Security after working for years and paying into the program with each paycheck. If confirmed, there’s urgent business for Mr. Saul at Social Security. Wait times on the phone are too long, there’s a major backlog in the disability system which means vulnerable Americans may die before they get their benefits, and there are new threats to Americans’ privacy and data emerging every day that Social Security must safeguard against. I am expecting quarterly updates on what progress Mr. Saul has made on these issues.

Protecting Social Security has been a top priority for me since I co-founded the Oregon Gray Panthers.  As an advocate for seniors, I’ve spent a lot of time in Social Security offices helping seniors get the critical benefits they’ve earned.  Ensuring seniors get their benefits is even more essential today now that 50% of seniors rely on Social Security for half of their income in retirement and 1 in 5 seniors rely on Social Security for almost all their income.

Given the growing importance of Social Security for so many of our seniors’ quality of life and the threat of cuts to the program advanced by some in Congress, it’s imperative that the Social Security Administration have strong leadership to face these challenges. I’m prepared to support Mr. Saul’s nomination today, but I’ll be watching closely to ensure he upholds his responsibilities in the face of almost daily attacks on the program.

Now on to Ms. Ennis’ nomination. If confirmed, she will play a major part in identifying ways that the day-to-day work of Social Security can be improved, where it has mistepped, and how the Congress can improve customer service with legislative changes. It’s been two years since Social Security had a confirmed watchdog inside the building, and in my view that’s far too long.

Given the challenges facing the program, it is critical that someone like Ms. Ennis is there to keep the agency on task and to inform Congress and the public when it is falling short. I plan to support her nomination.

Finally, Mr. Hartogensis. If he is confirmed, Mr. Hartogensis will face significant challenges leading the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. As many as 1.5 million Americans are enrolled in multiemployer pension plans that could become insolvent in the next few decades. If that happens, it’ll bankrupt the PBGC’s insurance program for all multiemployer pensions, affecting all who are enrolled. So this crisis is not some academic matter -- it’s a question of whether millions of Americans will be able to get by in old age.

It is important that the agency have a confirmed leader to help navigate this crisis. Congress has taken early steps to take on this challenge, but in my view the progress to date has been too slow given the stakes. I’ll be voting in favor of Mr. Hartogensis’ nomination today. He will have a lot of important work ahead and I will be watching closely to make sure that the retirement benefits of American workers are safeguarded.