U.S. Senate panel advances former Maryland governor’s nomination to lead Social Security
WASHINGTON — Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley moved one step closer Tuesday to becoming the next Social Security commissioner, a role that would become increasingly difficult as the program inches closer to insolvency during the next decade.
The U.S. Senate Finance Committee voted 17-10 to send O’Malley’s nomination to the floor, though it’s not clear how soon the entire chamber will vote on confirmation. All the panel’s Democrats and Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Thom Tillis of North Carolina voted to advance his nomination.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said he was backing O’Malley because he’s the “right person for the job at the right time.”
“I base my support for Martin O’Malley on the fact that every single time we have talked, he has emphasized one matter and one matter only, and that is service above politics,” Wyden said.
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, the panel’s top Republican, opposed O’Malley’s nomination, citing President Joe Biden’s decision to remove former Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul before his term was set to expire in January 2025.
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The Senate confirmed Saul, nominated by former President Donald Trump, in June 2019 following a 77-16 vote.
“When the Biden administration removed the last Senate confirmed commissioner prior to the completion of his six-year term, I expressed strong concern that this decision politicized the SSA to the detriment of Social Security beneficiaries,” Crapo said.
Future administrations could follow that precedent, Crapo said, limiting how long a Social Security commissioner has to implement change.
“Although I will not be voting in favor of Gov. O’Malley’s nomination today, we do share the goal of getting the Social Security Administration back on track so that it can provide the public with the level of service they expect and deserve,” Crapo said.
The White House said in a statement about the firing released in July 2021 that “Since taking office, Commissioner Saul has undermined and politicized Social Security disability benefits, terminated the agency’s telework policy that was utilized by up to 25 percent of the agency’s workforce, not repaired SSA’s relationships with relevant Federal employee unions including in the context of COVID-19 workplace safety planning, reduced due process protections for benefits appeals hearings, and taken other actions that run contrary to the mission of the agency and the President’s policy agenda,” according to the Washington Post.
Tillis supported O’Malley’s nomination in committee, saying he believes the former governor has “a very systematic method” of using data and analytics that “will serve him well in the Social Security Administration.”
Tillis noted that Congress will have to address the structure of the program within the next decade and that O’Malley would be in a good position to inform lawmakers as they draft legislation.
“We have a moral obligation to make sure the Social Security safety net exists. We have a moral obligation to recognize that at current course and speed, we’re going to break our promise seven to 10 years from now if we don’t figure out how to fix it,” Tillis said.
O’Malley: ‘urgent crisis’ in customer service
The latest Social Security trustees report, released in March, said the program would be able to pay 100% of retirement benefits from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund until 2033. After that, the program would be able to pay 77% of those benefits.
The date was one year earlier than previously expected.
While O’Malley would not be in “a position to change the structure of the Social Security system,” Tillis said he believes the former governor “will have the insight once he gets in there to understand that Congress needs to act.”
“And we need an expert there to help advise us on the best way to actually make sure that that promise gets fulfilled,” Tillis said.
O’Malley said during his confirmation hearing in early November that Social Security faces an “urgent crisis” addressing shortcomings in customer service and another problem on “the horizon with regard to solvency.”
But, he noted that Congress is in charge of setting the policy that determines how Social Security is structured and providing the funding to ensure a sufficient number of employees available to help people having issues with their Social Security.
“The truth is, today the Social Security Administration is serving 50% more customers and beneficiaries on the same staffing it had 20 years ago in 1995,” O’Malley said.
City councilman, mayor, governor, banjo player
O’Malley was a member of the Baltimore City Council from 1991 through December 1999, when he became the city’s mayor.
He would hold that job until January 2007, when he was sworn in as Maryland’s governor, a role he held for the maximum two four-year terms.
O’Malley would often play with his band, O’Malley’s March, during his time as governor and once played the banjo outside the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis.
“I love that as governor of MD I can still play street music in Annapolis,” he posted on Twitter with a photo of himself playing the instrument in a t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip-flops.
O’Malley ran for the Democratic nomination for president in the 2016 primary, though he withdrew from the race after the Iowa caucuses.