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Congressman Becerra, a Social Security Defender, Deals for Debt Reduction

The lone Latino on the joint congressional ‘supercommittee’ talks about the challenges ahead

Rep. Xavier Becerra, Becerra smiling

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., addresses the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington in 2010. — Charles Dharapak/AP

En español | Last year, Rep. Xavier Becerra stepped into the national spotlight as one of Congress’s most impassioned defenders of the Social Security program. Appointed to serve on President Obama’s debt commission, he ended up voting against the panel’s final report, which included cuts in Social Security. Cutting Social Security benefits, he explained, would betray Americans like his father, a construction worker who never earned more than $22,000 a year.

See also: Tell Washington not to cut Social Security, Medicare.

Now the California Democrat is one of 12 members of the congressional “supercommittee” charged with the difficult assignment of reducing the national debt. There’s a lot at stake: The committee must hit a $1.5 trillion target to avoid automatic and substantial cuts in many government programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would be exempted). That leaves the members of the supercommittee — six Democrats and six Republicans — under intensive pressure to reach agreement, something the Simpson-Bowles commission on which he previously served was unable to do.

Becerra is all but certain to be one of Social Security’s top defenders on the supercommittee, and his positions on the program are well known.

“Social Security has never contributed a dime to the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt — not one penny to our federal budget deficit this year or any year in our nation’s history,” he said last year at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.

Medicare may also be targeted for cuts. Most Republicans support a plan that would encourage Medicare beneficiaries to enroll in private health insurance plans, an idea Becerra opposes.

Becerra is the only Latino on the panel and represents a primarily Hispanic district in Los Angeles. He’s vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus. He spoke with AARP about his work as a supercommittee member.

What are your goals in serving on this panel?

My personal goals are to try to reach an agreement that not only fulfills our obligations, which require us to identify up to $1.5 trillion in savings, but also puts us on track to a solution that will restore confidence in markets. I hope we can prove to the American people that we can do this job well, and, above all, put the country back on the road to prosperity — put the country back to work.

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