President Joe Biden has picked former Democrat Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to lead the massive, financially challenged U.S. agency that distributes Social Security benefits to the elderly and disabled, the White House told Reuters on Wednesday.
O'Malley would need to be confirmed by the Senate to become commissioner of the Social Security Administration at a time when political partisanship has made confirming presidential nominees increasingly difficult.
A former Baltimore city council member and city mayor, O'Malley's eight-year term as Maryland governor ended in 2015. His 2016 presidential run as a younger, more liberal alternative to Democratic Party frontrunner Hillary Clinton failed to catch fire.
"Governor O'Malley is a lifelong public servant who has spent his career making government more accessible and transparent, while keeping the American people at the heart of his work," said Biden in a statement.
"Since Day 1 I have fought to strengthen and defend Social Security, which tens of millions of Americans have paid into and depend on to support their livelihoods. I know that Governor O'Malley will continue to be a strong partner that works tirelessly to protect Social Security for generations to come."
The over $1 trillion budget U.S. Social Security agency has been run by an acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, since Biden in 2021 fired the Trump holdover Andrew Saul after he refused to resign. Democratic lawmakers have been pushing Biden to pick a permanent agency chief for months, citing the low morale reported by its employees.
The program with more than 70 million beneficiaries is especially popular with elderly voters in competitive political states from Florida to New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
Biden, a Democrat, has accused Republicans of trying to undermine the program, including ahead of his debt limit fight with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the 2022 congressional elections. A number of Republicans, citing chronic U.S. government deficits, have proposed sharp benefit cuts.
Congress has been unable to agree to longer-term solutions to finance the program, which accounts for a fifth of government spending, a proportion that will only grow as the country ages.
The main Social Security trust fund's reserves will be depleted within a decade, the program's trustees and the Congressional Budget Office both estimated this year.
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