Should Congress remove Social Security penalty for government retirees? Bill Cassidy renews effort

Republican Louisiana U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said he plans to revive an effort to eliminate the Social Security penalty for workers with government pensions and their spouses, which would benefit thousands of retirees in his home state.

"It unfairly punishes those who dedicated their lives to public service like teachers and firefighters," Cassidy said during conference calls with reporters. "It's high time to repeal this outdated and harmful provision."

The 1980s-era Windfall Elimination Penalty (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) prevent government retirees like police, teachers, firefighters, state workers and their spouses who earned pensions from those careers from collecting their full Social Security benefits earned while working outside of government.

Members of Louisiana's congressional delegation have been trying for decades to repeal the law.

Last year Republican Louisiana Congressman Garret Graves, a co-author of the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 82), thought he and allies finally secured enough support in the House to bring the bill to a vote, but they blamed a procedural maneuver on former Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi for stalling the legislation.

The House bill didn't receive a vote before the 117th Congress ended, which means the effort must start over from scratch.

Republican Louisiana Congresswoman Julia Letlow, another co-author of last year's doomed bill, said Louisiana would reap the seventh greatest benefit among states if the current law was repealed.

Letlow said her office has received 3,000 constituent calls during her first year in Congress asking her to support changing the law, the most concerning of any issue.

She said the current policy "is cheating nearly 2 million Americans out of their earned benefits."

But opponents of the effort to remove WEP and GPO restrictions argue that repealing the current law will increase the strain already placed on Social Security and its future viability.

The Social Security Board of Trustees has said Social Security will become insolvent in 2035.

Senator Bill Cassidy photographed on April 12, 2022, at the Hilton Shreveport Hotel.
Senator Bill Cassidy photographed on April 12, 2022, at the Hilton Shreveport Hotel.

Cassidy said his strategy will be to build a bipartisan coalition of colleagues to craft comprehensive adjustments to Social Security with the repeal of WEP as part of the overall bill rather than as stand-alone legislation, but conceded "our plan is not finalized."

"Politically that is the only way," Cassidy said of the strategy. "If we build political support why not make (Social Security) more fair and better."

Cassidy, Graves and Letlow said current law also discourages people from entering public service professions.

"The WEP and GPO are severe penalties that defund public servants of much of their lifetime of retirement earnings," Graves said last year. "The last thing in the world we need to be doing now is defunding teachers, firefighters, police officers and other local and state public servants.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1 

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Cassidy aims to remove Social Security penalty for government retirees