Updated Mar 20, 2023, 12:39pm EDT
politicsNorth America

The story behind Bill Cassidy's public blowup at Janet Yellen


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In a dramatic scene last week, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. accused Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen of lying at a hearing about the White House’s willingness to work with Congress on reforming Social Security.

Cassidy, who later walked back the specific accusation against Yellen, said at the time he was frustrated with President Biden’s refusal to meet with his own working group to discuss their proposals.

Left unsaid: The Louisiana Republican has in fact been sitting down to discuss the issue with Biden’s staff.

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Senior White House officials have met a half-dozen times with Cassidy and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine or their aides in recent months, per a person familiar with the matter. The two lawmakers are leading a bipartisan group that is exploring ways to shore up Social Security’s finances past 2034, when its main trust fund is set to run dry, triggering large benefit cuts.

Semafor reported last month that options floated in the group include raising the retirement age to about 70 and establishing a sovereign wealth fund seeded with at least $1.5 trillion that would finance Social Security benefits with the returns from investing in stocks.

“We’ve engaged in good faith discussions to understand Senator Cassidy’s proposals,” a White House spokesperson told Semafor. “The President welcomes proposals from members of Congress on how to extend Social Security’s solvency without cutting benefits and without increasing taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000 a year.”

The discussions signal a willingness from the White House to at least hear out proposals from Capitol Hill on entitlements as a battle brews over the nation’s fiscal future later this year. But they haven’t satisfied Cassidy, who castigated Yellen at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee last week.

“President Biden has never made himself available to hear about the Cassidy-King proposal to save Social Security from impending 24% benefit cuts,” Cassidy said in a statement to Semafor. “Biden calls himself a deal maker; we can’t make a deal without him.”

Cassidy told Semafor on Thursday he’s requested “multiple” meetings with Biden, including as recently as the week before. He says he’s been spurned every time. “We have an approach which we need the president to engage on,” Cassidy said.

Biden, for his part, has pledged to defend both Social Security and Medicare against cuts. While the White House budget laid out a proposal to extend Medicare’s lifespan with new taxes on the rich, it omitted how the president would prevent Social Security from going insolvent.