The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing Tuesday morning on President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Social Security Administration, Andrew Saul, a former vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
Like other Trump nominees, Saul has no background in the field he was chosen to lead. He did, however, serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a right-wing think tank whose visiting fellows include Charles Murray, a race scientist who has argued that white people are intellectually superior to Black and Latinx individuals, and Abigail Thernstrom, political scientist who believes that affirmative action programs set Black children up for failure and that race barriers in America were eliminated when President Barack Obama was elected.
The Manhattan Institute has published a number of articles advocating drastic cuts to Social Security benefits, an ideology that is in direct conflict with the role of the Commissioner Of Social Security. One article published by the organization describes current Social Security payments as “simply too generous.”
Social Security advocates this week spoke out against Saul’s nomination, fearing even more cuts to a program that 63 million retired and disabled Americans rely on.
Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works, compared him to Trump and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“Saul graduated from The Wharton School in 1968, the same year as Donald Trump. Like Trump and many of Trump’s appointees, including Brett Kavanaugh, Saul appears to believe that his wealth and privilege should make him above the law,” Lawson said in a statement.
“This is not a man who should be in charge of Social Security, a program that is an essential lifeline for over 60 million Americans and their families,” he added. “A vote for Andrew Saul is a vote against Social Security. The Senate Finance Committee must reject this nomination.”
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That criticism can arguably be attributed to an incident in 2012, when Saul allegedly impersonated a police commissioner to get out of a trespassing charge.
According to The New York Post, Saul, then 65, was bicycling at a reservoir in Westchester County in April that year, when witnesses said he stopped to lift his bike over a barrier, in order to ride beyond a “no-trespassing sign and across the dam.”
“An officer assigned to the Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] ordered Saul to stop, the sources said. But when the cop turned his head to continue his conversation with a couple walking nearby, Saul hopped back on his bike and tried to ride off,” the Post reported. “Sources said the DEP officer grabbed Saul and the two men crashed to the ground during the Feb. 4 clash. That’s when Saul claimed he was a police commissioner […].”
According to the DEP, Saul was allowed to go home and get his identification. When he returned, he showed the officer an MTA Police Department card, which the Post noted were typically given out to civilian officials as a “courtesy.”
DEP officials later confirmed they had stopped Saul but did not elaborate on claims he had presented himself as a police officer.
Like Trump, Saul also has also been the target of criticism over his many business conflicts of interest. In 2007, following a brief campaign, he was forced to drop his congressional bid in New York, after federal election officials claimed he had accepted unethical campaign donations from two developers vying for the right to build residential and commercial complexes over railyards owned by the MTA.
Saul’s nomination comes as both Social Security and Medicare face drastic depletion. The government projected in June that Medicare funds would be decimated by 2026, three years earlier than estimated.
Trump has repeatedly accused the Democrats of trying to “raid” or “rob” Social Security, saying that the two programs have never been stronger than under his administration, but those claims are not supported by fact.
The GOP tax bill, largely touted by Trump as his biggest legislative achievement so far, has further strained Social Security and Medicare benefits because fewer taxes collected from Americans means less money being invested in the programs.
That reality is not lost on many Republicans. Though the cost of the tax bill increased the federal deficit, budget hawks who emphatically voted for the trillion dollar legislation have suddenly become concerned with spending — and Social Security programs are first on their list of items to cut.
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Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) urged “entitlement reform” in August, telling CNBC, “I do think we need to deal with some of our spending. We’ve got try to figure out how to spend less.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), a major proponent of the GOP tax bill, said outright that Social Security and Medicare should be cut in order to tame the ballooning deficit.
“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said during December appearance on Ross Kaminsky’s talk radio show. “…Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
Read more: thinkprogress.org