Although it's not yet so bad that congressional observers are likely to see flying monkeys circling the capital dome before they again witness a Democrat and a Republican agree on anything, bipartisanship has become exceedingly rare on the Senate and House floors. For that reason, it is encouraging that two Republican senators have united with a Democrat and an independent senator to introduce the Reducing Overlapping Payments Act. The four senators include Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Angus King, I-Maine. The bill aims to protect the Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment Insurance programs by reducing or eliminating overlapping benefits.
The bill "requires the Social Security Administration to suspend disability insurance benefits during any month in which a recipient also collects unemployment insurance benefits," according to a statement from the four senators. The statement cites a Government Accountability Office estimate that in 2010 more than 117,000 individuals received in excess of $850 million in overlapping payments, including one individual who got more than $62,000 in a year.
Adding to the bipartisan character of the effort is the fact that, as Coburn noted, President Obama proposed similar action earlier this year in his proposed federal budget. Coburn and Obama have a long history of bipartisanship on fiscal issues, having co-sponsored the landmark Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act. That 2006 law mandated creation of the USAspending.gov website that puts data on most federal spending within a few mouse clicks for any citizen with an Internet connection.
The problem of overlapping benefit payments is not a new one. Google the term "overlapping government benefits" and among the first entries to appear is a 1965 Social Security study that estimated approximately 3 percent of people then receiving disability insurance payments were also cashing unemployment checks. Nearly 50 years later, the problem remains a serious one, as indicated by the GAO study cited by the four senators in their joint statement.
Whatever anybody thinks about the propriety of a government program that provides cash benefits to individuals who can't work due to disability or because they've lost their job, all agree that eliminating duplication of payments is essential to preserving the programs' ability to provide a maximum of help to those who most need it.
As Flake said, "With the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund's projected depletion in 2016, it's unacceptable that thousands each year game the system by collecting benefits for two conflicting purposes. Preventing the dual collection of disability insurance and unemployment insurance is a common-sense step toward bringing greater solvency to the disability insurance program which so many Americans truly in need depend on."
The time is coming rapidly when Congress and the president will not longer be able to delay implementing serious entitlement reform. In the meantime, there is no reason not to move quickly on what Manchin describes as a "common-sense proposal that strengthens our entitlement system by prioritizing our resources based on our values, while also keeping our promises to seniors."