Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, has many epithets: The Jack Murtha Disciple, The Disappearing District and, the one he most wants you to learn: The Entitlement Defender. In the knarled tree branch of the 12th district, there are many senior citizens. And they like their entitlements. During his special and general election campaigns against Tim Burns, Critz made Social Security and Medicare-related attacks the basis of his argument, at times distorting his foe's record.
Today, he was on the House floor singing the praises of entitlements and offering an amendment to the three-week spending bill the House passed this afternoon to avert a government shutdown. The amendment would have prevented money from the appropriations bill from going toward any system of moving Social Security money to private accounts or turning Medicare into a voucher-based system.
“We all agree that we should cut waste and abuse in government programs, but Social Security – which has $2.6 trillion in reserves – has not, and is not, contributing to the federal deficit,” Critz said in a statement. “Social Security provides retirement and disability assistance to over 53 million Americans, and without it, almost half of Americans aged 65 and older would have incomes below the poverty line.”
All true (though that "trust fund" isn't exactly trustworthy) but the amendment -- known as a "motion to recommit" -- had nothing to do with the spending bill, which dealt only with discretionary spending and not entitlements. So Critz's proposition would have "prevented" something that wasn't actually happening. Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers of Kentucky countered that the Critz amendment was "a fog screen to try to hide us from the task at hand." The motion failed, 190-239, with one Republican and every Democrat in favor.
So why even bother with this exercise? Because MTR votes are typically the place for partisan mischief by the minority intended to force politically tough votes to advance a majority-favored bill. (An MTR, if it passes, typically sends the bill back to committee but in today's case, because of the time-sensitive nature of the continuing resolution, Critz said it would just amend the bill on the floor.) During the health care reform debate, for example, the motion to recommit offered by Republicans dealt with medical malpractice lawsuits. The Democrats voted it down and were accused of siding with trial lawyers. But voting for the amendment, however tempting, could have derailed the entire bill.
In this case, the prime motivation for the Critz amendment came less than an hour later in a series of emails from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, headlined thusly: "[Republican X] Fails to Protect Social Security and Medicare From Benefit Cuts."