Nothing unifies Washington like the Nazis, even if it takes a while.
After 15 years of largely rejected complaints to the federal bureaucracy, the House of Representatives voted 420-0 Tuesday to deny federal benefits to Nazi suspects after learning that many were receiving Social Security checks.
Although at least one member of the House had been trying unsuccessfully to turn off the checks for years, Congress was prodded to act by an Associated Press investigation in October that found “dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals and SS guards who collected millions of dollars in Social Security payments after being forced out of the United States.”
Social Security benefits end if someone is deported because they participated in Nazi persecutions, according to the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax legislation.
However, the committee said, Nazi suspects could continue to get benefits if the Justice Department found them to be denaturalized, or stripped of their citizenship. They also continue collecting if they voluntarily renounced their citizenship and left the country to avoid formal deportation proceedings.
The AP found at least 38 of 66 suspects “removed from the United States kept their Social Security benefits.”
“The alleged Nazi criminals left the U.S. voluntarily,” Justice spokesman Peter Carr told McClatchy. “And in no case did the Justice Department advocate on any alleged Nazi criminal’s behalf so that the defendant could retain retirement benefits or agree not to seek any legally available means to revoke the benefits.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who’s been trying to remedy the situation for at least 15 years, hoped the AP report would finally help get people’s attention.
“This is certainly a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars,” she wrote this fall to the Justice Department and the Social Security Administration seeking an investigation.
Maloney’s office was still awaiting a response Tuesday.
But the legislative wheels began turning fast. Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Leonard Lance, R-N.J., joined Maloney to introduce legislation declaring Nazi war criminals ineligible for federal benefits. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate.
Groups promoting Jewish and Social Security interests weighed in. “The United States should not be lending material support to individuals whose crimes were so egregious that a new word had to be coined to describe them: Genocide,” wrote Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs at AJC, the global Jewish advocacy organization.
Tuesday, the House engaged in a fast, efficient debate and vote. Lance called the practice “sickening and morally wrong.” Lawmakers bemoaned the “loophole” that’s allowed the practice.
“Allowing payments to continue is an inexcusable insult to those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis,” said Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson, R-Texas.
What happens next is unclear. The Senate is expected to pass the bill, though no timetable has been set.
This issue surfaced in the 1990s, when the Clinton administration considered ending the practice. Congress tried to get involved, but its effort went nowhere. AP reported the Justice Department was reluctant to support any legislation.
Then came this fall’s AP report, reviving interest and offering new momentum.
Major Jewish organizations pledged support. At the Social Security Administration, spokesman William Jarrett said, “We don’t believe these individuals should be getting Social Security benefits, and the agency is available and ready to provide technical assistance to proposals that would close this loophole.”
The bill approved Tuesday would:
▪ Stop benefit payments to those denaturalized because of participation in Nazi persecutions or who voluntarily renounced their citizenship as part of a settlement with the Justice Department related to their Nazi activity.
▪ Assure that those ineligible for Social Security benefits because of their Nazi activity don’t get spouse benefits because they’re married to a Social Security or Supplemental Security Income beneficiary.
▪ Require the attorney general to certify to the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees that Social Security has been told of all those whose benefits should be terminated because of Nazi activity. The Social Security commissioner would have to certify that benefits were terminated.