In case there was any doubt that the White House and many Congressional Republicans still want to cut Americans’ earned benefits, chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow just confirmed it. On Monday at the Economic Club of New York, Kudlow told CNBC’s Becky Quick that Social Security and Medicare are still very much on the table:
QUICK: Will the Trump administration tackle entitlement reform?
KUDLOW: Well, we’ve already tackled a big part of the newest entitlement, namely Obamacare. As far as the larger entitlements, I think everybody’s going to look at that probably next year. I don’t want to be specific, I don’t want to get ahead of our own budgeting, but we’ll get there.
This aligns with comments from National Republican Congressional Committee chair, Rep. Steve Stivers, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and several other key GOP members about the need to pay for last year’s tax cuts by ‘reforming’ Social Security and Medicare. ‘Reforming,’ of course, means cutting and privatizing.
“Polls consistently indicate that majorities of Americans oppose cutting earned benefits and privatization – and do not support the Trump/GOP tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations. Kudlow’s remarks are particularly ironic in light of President Trump’s recent assertion that the administration and its allies in Congress will ‘protect’ Social Security and Medicare while Democrats want to ‘destroy’ them.” – Max Richtman, National Committee President, 9/18/18
The President’s claims fly in the face of reality, of course. Just last week Democrats energized their campaign to boost benefits by launching Expand Social Security caucuses in the House and Senate. Democrats have already introduced legislation to strengthen Social Security and reduce costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the Republicans’ latest budget proposals call for billions in cuts to both to Social Security and Medicare. In an article published yesterday, MSNBC producer Steve Benen laid bare the hypocrisy of President Trump’s claims.
“As election-season pitches go, the idea that Republicans will support Medicare and Social Security more than Democrats is as cynical as it is ridiculous. But while the president and some of his cohorts vow to protect these pillars of modern American life, other Republicans are stepping on the party’s message and signaling their intentions to cut those programs.” – Steve Benen, MSNBC, 9/17/18
In his comments yesterday, the president’s top economic advisor has just reinforced the political right’s true priorities: cutting benefits for seniors and disabled Americans living on fixed incomes to pay for tax cuts for the rich.
The cause of expanding Social Security got a big boost on Capitol Hill today with the creation of two new Congressional caucuses. Key members of the House and Senate launched ‘Expand Social Security’ caucuses for each chamber of Congress. Co-chaired by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Representatives John Larson (D-CT), Conor Lamb (D-PA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Terri Sewell (D-AL), members of the new caucuses promised a “righteous fight” to expand, not cut, Social Security – while demanding the wealthiest pay their fair share. “We’ll protect and expand Social Security for every American who has a right to it,” promised Congresswoman Dingell.
Yellow t-shirted volunteers from the National Committee’s Capital Action Team (CATs) traveled to Capitol Hill to show their support for the new caucuses. Speaking for the National Committee, Senior Policy Analyst Webster Phillips lauded members of Congress for embracing a movement the group has long championed.
“For decades, stagnant wages have eroded working Americans’ ability to save for retirement. That’s why protecting and expanding Social Security is critical to the National Committee, and to an overwhelming majority of Americans from across the political spectrum.” – NCPSSM Senior Policy Analyst Webster Phillips, 9/13/18
Senator Sanders touted legislation, including his own Social Security Expansion Act and Rep. Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which would keep the system solvent for decades while modestly boosting benefits.
“We must say loudly and clearly, at a time when millions of seniors are trying to survive on fixed incomes, we’re not going to cut Social Security. We’re going to expand! You hear that, Paul Ryan? Expand!” – Sen. Bernie Sanders, 9/13/18
Co-chair John Larson said that more than 140 members had signed onto the House caucus so far, making it the largest in Congress. Larson and the other co-chairs insisted the time is right for creation of these caucuses, in the face of relentless Republican proposals to cut Social Security benefits, which they falsely label ‘entitlements.’ “News flash! It’s not an entitlement. It’s insurance you pay for,” thundered Larson. Senator Warren struck an equally defiant tone.
“We’re here to say no! We will never cut Social Security. We will expand Social Security! We will fight shoulder to shoulder for what’s right. This is a righteous fight… and we’re going to win!” – Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 9/13/18
In 2013, the National Committee launched the Boost Social Security Now campaign to advocate higher benefits and more accurate cost-of-living adjustments (among other improvements) for retirees and people with disabilities. “With almost half of retirees depending on Social Security for all or most of their income at a time of rising living expenses, boosting benefits is the only just and sustainable path forward,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee.
The “Boost” campaign includes specific policy prescriptions for expanding the program, including: lifting the cap on Social Security payroll contributions (currently set at $128,400 in annual income); increasing the basic benefit for current and future retirees; providing Social Security credits for family caregivers; and replacing the inadequate inflation index now used to calculate cost-of-living adjustments with the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), which more accurately reflects seniors’ true expenses. These expansion measures stand in stark opposition to the conservative agenda to cut Social Security.
“The movement to expand Social Security is a bulwark against conservative attempts to slash benefits, raise the retirement age, and impose lower cost-of-living adjustments under the guise of ‘entitlement reform.’ The political right has renewed its attacks on Americans’ earned benefits in the wake of the Trump/GOP tax cuts, which have failed to trickle down to working people while blowing a $2 trillion hole in the federal debt,” said Richtman.
Expanding Social Security benefits is not only the right thing to do for beneficiaries struggling to make ends meet; it will enhance Social Security’s role in boosting the economy. Social Security already provides more than $1.6 trillion in national economic stimulus every year. Every dollar paid in benefits adds $2 to the economy. Boosting Social Security benefits will infuse communities, states, and the entire country with billions of dollars in additional stimulus. For more information, see the National Committee’s Social Security Snapshots, detailing the program’s economic impact in all 50 states and U.S. territories.
If legislation passed by the Senate on Tuesday becomes law, your pharmacist may no longer be ‘gagged’ or forbidden from telling you crucial information about drug pricing. Many of us pay inflated prices for drugs by going through insurance, rather than paying out of pocket. A blood pressure medication might cost $20 on an insurance plan, where it might only cost $8 out of pocket. But, under the Medicare Part D law, many pharmacists are prohibited from sharing that information with their customers.
The Know the Lowest Price Act, sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), prohibits insurers – and middlemen known as pharmacy benefit mangers (PBMs) – from restricting a pharmacist’s ability to provide drug price information when there is a difference between the cost of the drug under the plan and the cost of the drug without using insurance.
The bipartisan bill passed by ‘unanimous consent’ – which means that no Senators objected. Usually dependable allies of Big Pharma and insurance companies struck a blow for consumers with this common sense legislation that removes an unreasonable restriction on pharmacists and directly benefits consumers.
Senator Stabenow, ranking member on the Senate Health Care Subcommittee, has become a leader in the fight to reduce prescription drug prices. Americans pay more for prescription drugs than most other countries. The price for the most popular brand-name drugs have risen more than 200% since 2008.
“Healthcare is a basic human right and everyone should be able to afford the medications he or she needs. Drug companies treat prescription drugs as a commodity to be priced at whatever the market will bear, even if patients can’t afford critical life-saving medicine.” – Senator Debbie Stabenow
Meanwhile, the median salary of a pharmaceutical CEO is roughly $15 million per year. In the wake of the Trump/GOP tax scam, large pharmaceutical companies have spent $50 billion in stock buybacks – while doing little to lower the cost of drugs.
Skyrocketing drug prices exact a toll on working and middle class Americans struggling to make ends meet. Last month, Senator Stabenow and several Senate colleagues heard poignant testimony from everyday people affected (and in some cases, devastated) by the sometimes exorbitant cost of crucial medications – including a mother who lost her son to diabetes because he couldn’t afford insulin; an MS patient whose life-saving medication costs some $75,000 per year; and a senior volunteer for the National Committee who said his out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions would have exceeded $5,000 last year were it not for improvements to Medicare in the Affordable Care Act.
The high cost of prescriptions hits older Americans on fixed incomes particularly hard, especially for medications designed to treat serious or chronic conditions where the patient’s cost-share can be expensive. The prices of the 20 brand-name drugs most prescribed to seniors have jumped an average of 12% per year, with some doubling in price. We have all heard of seniors having to choose between prescription drugs and groceries – or rationing doses of critical medications to try to cut costs, an unnecessary and unacceptable situation in one of the wealthiest countries on Earth.
The National Committee endorsed Senator Stabenow’s Know the Lowest Price Act, and supports two other important pieces of legislation she has introduced, including a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies (the Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act), and a bill to permit the importation of drugs from Canada manufactured at facilities inspected by the Food and Drug Administration (the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act). Neither of those bills has come up for a vote in the Senate yet.
Real wages (adjusted for inflation) have been declining; Trump tax cuts haven’t helped
Underneath the major headlines about the death of Senator McCain and the latest iterations of the Trump scandals, a theme has emerged in news coverage about how the president and his party’s policies are affecting working people. The theme is that, despite promises that the Trump/GOP tax scheme would benefit everyday Americans, real wages remain stagnant – or worse – under President Trump.
A quick look at these headlines tells a story of an economic “boom” that has mainly benefited the wealthy and already profitable corporations:
Trump’s promises to ‘forgotten man’ undercut by wage stagnation – Bloomberg
Despite Strong Economy, Many Americans Struggling to Get By – New York Times/Associated Pres
Trump’s tax plan is failing to give American workers the wage growth he promised – Newsweek
Bloomberg reporters Toluse Olorunnipa and Shobhana Chandra contrast President Trump’s promise to help America’s “forgotten man and woman” with the reality of the post-tax cut “boom.”
“Real wages have remained mostly stagnant, despite an expanding economy, record stock prices, soaring corporate profits, and a giant deficit-fueled stimulus from Trump’s tax cuts that took effect Jan. 1, 2018.” – Bloomberg
Olorunnipa and Chandra report that hourly wages (adjusted for inflation) had fallen 0.2 percent in July compared to a year earlier, because worker pay is not rising fast enough to compensate for inflation. Real wages are actually growing slower under President Trump than during Barack Obama’s second term.
The New York Times/Associated Press story makes clear that these figures translate into real economic pain for working families:
“About 40 percent of American families struggled to meet at least one of their basic needs last year, including paying for food, health care, housing or utilities.” – New York Times/Associated Press
How can the president and his party ask us to celebrate a booming economy in which nearly half of American families cannot afford basics like food, housing, and healthcare? Clearly, this new prosperity has not trickled down to working people. That’s because the benefits of the tax cut went disproportionately to the wealthy and big corporations – who, instead of sharing the windfall with workers or investing in new capacity, are spending $1 trillion of their tax breaks on stock buybacks, not to mention CEO bonuses. As conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin points out in the Washington Post, Democrats are reminding voters in advance of November’s elections just how hollow the Republicans’ promises to working people really were:
“Thanks to the GOP hype, for now Democrats can rightly claim Trump that Republicans pulled a bait and switch on the voters.” – Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
One less obvious, but equally dangerous, consequence of wage stagnation is its direct effect on future Social Security beneficiaries. Stagnating wages mean reduced payroll contributions by workers, lowering their lifetime earnings, and in turn, their Social Security retirement benefits. When they retire – or become disabled – and need their benefit checks, those checks simply may not be big enough.
Making matters worse, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly called for “reform” (i.e., cuts) to Social Security and Medicare to pay for the Trump/GOP tax scam. Just last week, House Budget Committee chairman Steve Stivers affirmed during a CNBC interview that Americans’ earned benefits were on the table, despite President Trump’s now broken promises “not to touch” Social Security and Medicare.
This, of course, makes it even more important that seniors’ advocates continue to push for expanding – rather than cutting – earned benefits. This movement will get a big boost on September 13th, when members of Congress launch Expand Social Security caucuses in the House and Senate, under the leadership of Rep. John Larson (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The National Committee has promoted expansion of Social Security since 2013 under the banner of the Boost Social Security Now campaign, which calls for increasing the basic benefit, creating family caregiver credits, and more generous cost-of-living adjustments for seniors – paid for by lifting the cap on payroll contributions so that the wealthy begin paying their fair share. At a time when the top 1% are thriving and the working and middle classes continue to struggle with stagnating wages and rising costs, expanding Social Security is the right thing to do.
Sens. Van Hollen, Wyden, Stabenow and Smith hear stories of high Rx drug prices
A Senate Democratic committee heard poignant stories Tuesday about the impact of skyrocketing prescription drug prices on everyday Americans. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) said the time is now to take bold action to lower drug prices – and excoriated the Trump administration for the “lack of teeth” in its own proposals.
Senator Stabenow criticized the unholy alliance of Big Pharma, insurance companies, and middlemen who exercise outsize control over healthcare costs in this country. Senator Wyden encouraged lawmakers to view healthcare as a “right” rather than “a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.” One of the highest policy priorities, the Senators agreed, is to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.
National Committee volunteer and retiree John Glaser was among those giving testimonials before the committee. Glaser said that, without Medicare Part D and the improvements made under the Affordable Care Act, he would have spent nearly $5,000 out of pocket on prescription drugs last year alone.
“Medicare drug benefits and the Affordable Care Act’s closing of the coverage ‘donut hole’ have made a huge difference in my life and are invaluable for the quality of my life.” – John Glaser, National Committee volunteer and Medicare beneficiary, 8/21/18
Glaser told the Senators that his brother, who suffers from diabetes, heart problems, and kidney disease, takes over 50 pills every day, all of which are covered by Medicare Part D with improvements from the ACA.
“If my brother had to pay the full price for all of those drugs, he’d be living on the street.” – John Glaser
The Senators also heard from an 80 year-old Parkinson’s patient, Stahis Panaglides, who discovered that a recommended medication would cost him $400 a month even with a supplemental Medicare plan. Panaglides was not able to afford the medication.
Multiple Sclerosis patient Marques Jones told the Senators that his MS medication costs about $75,000 annually. Despite having robust insurance coverage, Jones’ annual out-of-pocket spending on drug co-pays and insurance premiums for his family of five is very high.
The most painful story was told by Nicole Smith-Holt – a Minnesota state employee and suburban mom who lost her son, Alec, at age 26. She says Alec – who suffered from type 1 diabetes – couldn’t afford his regular insulin copays and had been rationing the medication when he was found dead in his home as a result of diabetic ketoacidosis.
After Smith-Holt’s tearful testimony, Senator Stabenow said that this kind of story “should never happen in America.” The Senator has introduced legislation to lower drug prices:
The bipartisan Know the Lowest Price Act cracks down on outrageous gag clauses that stop pharmacists from telling customers that they could pay less for their prescription if they pay out of pocket.
The Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to directly negotiate with drug companies for price discounts of their drugs, which is banned under current law.
The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue regulations permitting wholesalers, licensed U.S. pharmacies, and individuals to import drugs from licensed Canadian sellers that are manufactured at facilities inspected by the Food and Drug Administration.
Senator Wyden has introduced legislation of his own, including the SPIKE Act, “which forces drug manufacturers to provide justification when they drastically increase drug prices”; The C-THRU Act “would reveal the amount of drug rebates middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) pocket for themselves versus how much they pass along in savings to consumers.”; and the the RxCAP Act “which caps how much seniors in Medicare have to pay for their Medicare Part D drugs, who currently don’t have such protection today.”
Senator Van Hollen is cosponsoring a bill to “lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Americans to import safe, low-cost medicine from Canada.”
After hearing yesterday’s poignant testimony, so indicative of what families across the country are experiencing, these legislative solutions provide a positive, common sense path forward for making prescription drugs affordable.