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From the category archives: Max Richtman

What the GOP’s Sleight of Hand Budgeting and Deflection Politics Means for Social Security & Medicare

First pulished on Huffington Post by Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Any good magician will tell you, the best tricks depend on misdirection. So while all eyes are on the spectacle of the House GOP’s in-fighting, its search for a new Speaker and the never-ending “who-insulted-who” shenanigans of the GOP Presidential primary, it’s easy to forget that Congress is now also quietly working on legislation that could impact virtually every American family, especially those that depend on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The American people must not be distracted by the ongoing political show to the point that they miss the real action occurring behind the scenes.

Before leaving for recess in December, Congress faces legislative deadlines to avoid a government shutdown, a default, an extension for transportation funding and tax breaks. While the shutdown has been narrowly averted, the annual appropriations process continues as the President and Congressional Democrats push GOP leaders for a deal to mitigate automatic across-the-board cuts to defense and non-defense programs – also known as the “sequester.” 

No amount of political magic can hide the fact that three years of sequester caps have had serious consequences for important seniors programs, including the Older Americans Act and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, along with service reductions at Social Security Administration field offices. That’s why the National Committee supports the President’s plan to increase spending caps. However, some conservatives in Congress insist that relief for programs like the Older Americans Act be paid for by cutting Medicare and Medicaid. This budgetary sleight-of-hand could trade partial relief for some seniors’ programs by cutting other essential health security programs like Medicare and Medicaid, thus further eroding the tenuous economic situation many older Americans face.

It’s no mystery where these Medicare and Medicaid cuts are likely to come from. You have to look no further than the GOP Budget plan for a blueprint of the House leadership’s favorite benefit cut proposals, such as:

  • Ending the Medicaid joint federal/state financing partnership and replacing it with fixed dollar amount block grants, giving states less money than they would receive under current law. 
  • Repealing Medicaid expansion. Since 2014, states have had the option to receive federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage. Over half of the states have expanded their Medicaid programs, and others will likely do so in the future.  Repealing this option would result in at least 14 million people losing their Medicaid coverage and state Medicaid programs would lose a total of $900 billion over 10 years. 
  • Cutting Medicare by $431 billion over ten years.  Over half of Medicare beneficiaries had incomes below $23,500 per year in 2013, and they are already paying 23 percent of their average Social Security check for Medicare cost-sharing in addition to out-of-pocket costs.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare has prepared a detailed look at the many policy options in our Fall Budget Outlook brief.

Legislation may need to be enacted by late November or early December to allow the government to continue borrowing and avoid a government default.  Allowing a default would result in an economic catastrophe and jeopardize the payment of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. In addition, default would jeopardize Medicare and Medicaid payments to doctors and hospitals and coverage for prescription drugs, which are critical to the health security of millions of Americans.

As if all of this isn’t enough, funding for the nation’s roads and public transit will also expire at the end of October.  Because the Highway Trust Fund no longer takes in enough gasoline tax revenue to cover surface transportation costs, Congress must come up with more funding.  When Congress passed a temporary funding fix this summer, House leaders proposed using Social Security funds to pay for it.  This was the third time in little over a year that Congress has attempted to use Social Security and/or Medicare as an ATM to pay for a completely unrelated priority.  Last year Congress voted to extend the Medicare sequester cuts into 2024 to cover a reversal of cost-of-living cuts to veterans' pension benefits. This summer Medicare was cut again to help pay for the Trade bill.  Rather than consider tax reform for huge corporate tax dodgers sending billions of profits oversee to avoid paying taxes, GOP leaders tried again (unsuccessfully this time) to cut benefits to seniors, people with disabilities and their families who depend on Social Security to pay for highways.  Unfortunately, Congress could pull this outrageous strategy out of its hat once again.  Need money for highways, to relieve sequester cuts, deficit reduction or anything at all? Voila!  Let’s take if from Social Security and Medicare.

There’s no doubt about it -- it will take more than legislative smoke and mirrors and political magic for Congress to get the job done right. But the American people also need to be more than an audience in this process.  We need to pull back the curtain on this benefit cut agenda so the American people can avert any surprises Congressional leaders have up their sleeves for vital programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Budget Squabbling and Its Potential Impact on Social Security & Medicare

The Office of Management and Budget is monitoring congressional actions and preparing to instruct agencies when they should begin implementing shutdown plans as funding our nation’s programs languishes amid the GOP-led Congress’ squabbling over defunding Planned Parenthood. One week prior to a potential lapse in appropriations, the OMB is expected to hold a meeting with senior agency officials to begin planning for the shutdown.

With the clock ticking, Congress is scrambling to not only avoid a government shutdown and default but also pass an extension for transportation funding and tax breaks. Will the sequester continue or can Congress find a better way to manage our nation’s finances?  This political gamesmanship and inability to get anything done impacts far more than one federal program.  Seniors programs like Social Security and Medicare are also in the cross-hairs.

“America’s seniors have become especially weary of these Congressional dramas as they have learned, the hard way, that Social Security and Medicare have become the favored target for budget cuts or “pay-fors” for a host of Congressional programs that have nothing to do with providing the earned benefits seniors depend on.  From highways to trade and beyond, Congress continues to try and use seniors’ programs as a national ATM. The next few weeks promises more of the same”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has prepared a detailed Fall Legislative Update mapping the current legislative minefield for programs which touch the lives of virtually every American family.

We’ve identified the numerous legislative hurdles still ahead, the possible threats to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and our positions on each potential pay-for or budget cut.  You can see NCPSSM’s Fall Legislative Update here. 

Populism, Promises and Privatization: Mike Huckabee and Social Security

Former Governor and GOP Presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, found out early in the primary race a populist tone combined with a promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits would provide a political opportunity to distinguish himself from the GOP pack who’ve been racing to see who could cut more middle-class benefits faster.

Unfortunately, Huckabee’s Oped in the DesMoines Register today made it abundantly clear that, in spite of his rhetoric, his actually plans for the programs are just more of the same: repeal Obamacare and the billions in benefits and years of solvency that comes with it, privatize the programs, and replace Social Security’s funding with a regressive tax changing the program from an earned benefit into a welfare program.

You have to ask yourself, is this really how a champion of Social Security and Medicare describes these programs?

“Washington confiscates money from every American’s paycheck”

“The government grabs that money”

“Washington has been pick-pocketing us every day of our working lives.”

“Washington put a gun to your head and robbed it from your paycheck.”

NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman reacted to Huckabee’s piece this way:

“While it’s encouraging to see one GOP presidential candidate finally acknowledge that Social Security and Medicare benefits should not be cut (“Don’t Cut Benefits America’s Seniors already paid for” Aug 12, 2015), it’s also clear Governor Huckabee’s reasoning is built on a flawed political premise that Social Security and Medicare were built through federal ‘confiscation’ and ‘pick-pocketing.’

No doubt, this plays well with the candidate’s Tea Party base, especially those who are conflicted in their hatred of government and love for its two largest programs, Social Security and Medicare.  However, it’s clear Huckabee’s views have far more in common with the GOP Presidential pack than the American people who value these programs in their current form, not the privatized preference he supports.  Taxing “illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers,” to pay for Social Security doesn’t seriously address income adequacy or long-term solvency while repealing Obamacare would steal years of solvency from Medicare and billions in new benefits for seniors. 

The American people, of all ages and parties, support Social Security and Medicare because they work.  Promising to protect benefits, while maligning the very essence of these programs and supporting the same old GOP prescriptions may be a good political strategy but it has little to do with improving the programs for generations of Americans.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Not mentioned in his Des Moines Register piece, and only rarely discussed, is the fact the Huckabee also supports various forms of privatization ranging from ending Social Security’s guaranteed monthly benefit in exchange for a lump-sum payment to private accounts for future generations. 

“Instead of signing up for Social Security sometime between the ages of 62 and 70, which is currently the only option for eligible Americans, and receiving a monthly benefits check, Huckabee wants to offer a one-time, lump-sum cash out benefit at age 65 to participants that would be completely free of taxation. Per Huckabee, it would remove the government's ongoing involvement in providing for seniors, and it would potentially allow seniors the opportunity to invest their lump-sum payment in order to achieve inflation-topping returns.”  Motley Fool

Sound familiar?  It should, as it’s the same send-your-Social-Security-to-Wall-Street goal expressed by President George Bush during his failed campaign a decade ago to privatize Social Security – delivered in a slightly different way.  Apparently everything old is new again.

Huckabee also uses Social Security and Medicare, based on his misdiagnosis of the long-term solvency issue, to defend a terribly regressive tax policy -- the Fair Tax -- which rewards the rich and punishes everyone else: 

“Citizens for Tax Justice and the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation have each found that to raise the same amount of revenue as current law, the sales tax rate would have to be about 50 percent.

A study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) found that under the “Fair Tax,” the top 1 percent of taxpayers would receive an average annual tax cut of $225,000. Meanwhile, the plan would increase taxes by about $3,200 on average on the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers. In other words, Huckabee’s tax plan would significantly increase taxes on the overwhelming majority of Americans to pay for huge tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans.”

Time will tell if seniors will take the “I won’t cut your benefits” bait and ignore the details of Governor Huckabee’s plans for Social Security and Medicare.  As is always the case in every political campaign, the devil is in those details.  

Why Simply Celebrating Medicare's 50th Anniversary Isn't Enough

As we celebrate Medicare’s 50th anniversary this week it’s important to do more than just cut the cake…we must also educate and advocate. That’s because even though the American people clearly understand how vital Medicare and Medicaid are to families, too many politicians (especially those running for the GOP Presidential nod) apparently still don’t get it. 

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote today about these “Zombies Against Medicare,” including their refusal to acknowledge that all the bad things they’ve predicted about Medicare for five decades have never actually happened, Jeb Bush’s promise to end Medicare and especially the Republican Party’s never-ending quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“And then a funny thing happened: the act’s passage was immediately followed by an unprecedented pause in Medicare cost growth. Indeed, Medicare spending keeps coming in ever further below expectations, to an extent that has revolutionized our views about the sustainability of the program and of government spending as a whole.Right now is, in other words, a very odd time to be going on about the impossibility of preserving Medicare, a program whose finances will be strained by an aging population but no longer look disastrous. One can only guess that Mr. Bush is unaware of all this, that he’s living inside the conservative information bubble, whose impervious shield blocks all positive news about health reform.” 

Medicare advocates briefed the press today on the importance of this 50th anniversary and the ongoing battle to preserve and expand the program. 

“Anyone who thinks these programs aren’t under threat should just look at where the GOP presidential candidates stand on these issues.  Every prediction made by opponents about these programs…from claiming 'socialism' to 'they won’t work'…have been proven wrong.” Brad Woodhouse, President of Americans United for Change 

“It’s time for GOP leaders to stop threatening us with cuts and repeal, and start proposing truly bold ideas that include benefits expansion, raising the wage cap, enacting an affordable long term care program, shifting to a fully-developed consumer price index for the elderly, and negotiating drug prices. That would be a real platform for real Americans.” Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO 

As the 2015 Trustees Report release last week shows, Medicare’s health has greatly improved since health care reform was passed.  Not only did the ACA provide improved benefits for seniors its long-term solvency has been extended by 13 years.  Congress should be building on these reforms to improve the program rather than continuing a politically myopic and factually bankrupt quest to “save” Medicare by killing it.

The Truth about the 2015 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Report

Social Security is still fully funded for nearly two decades, a COLA increase unlikely, and health care reform continues to preserve Medicare’s solvency

No doubt, today’s unsurprising news in the Trustees Reports for Social Security and Medicare will be overshadowed by the same crisis calls we hear each and every year from those determined to cut benefits or privatize the programs.  Today’s reports lay out in clear terms how stable Social Security and Medicare remain. Rather than use the disability program’s projected shortfall as a political opportunity to target the entire Social Security program for cuts, Congress can pass a simple reallocation, as has happened without controversy 11 previous times.  Or, even better, Congress could pass new legislation, introduced today by Rep. Xavier Becerra, to combine the Social Security Trust Funds.  There are ways to avoid a massive benefit cut Americans with disabilities simply cannot afford without targeting the entire Social Security program for cuts.”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Here are some of the key points in the 2015 Trustees Report:

·         Trustees project Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until the year 2034, one year longer than projected last year.  After that, Social Security will still have sufficient revenue to pay 79% of benefits if no changes are made to the program.

·         Social Security remains well-funded. In 2015, as the economy continues to improve, Social Security’s total income is projected to exceed its expenses. In fact, the Trustees estimate that total annual income will exceed program obligations until 2019. 

·         Trustees project no Cost of Living Adjustment increase.

·         The Trustees report there is now nearly $2.79 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $25 billion more than last year and that it will continue to grow by payroll contributions and interest on the Trust Fund's assets.   

With so little bad news to report in this 2015 Trustees report, critics have now shifted their attention to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which faces a more immediate challenge and requires Congress’ action.

·    Trustees project the Disability Trust fund will be depleted in 2016, the same year projected in last year’s report. This projected shortfall is not a surprise and Congress should pass legislation that combines the Social Security Trust Funds or at the very least, reallocates income across the Social Security Trust Funds, as it has done 11 times before to cover the anticipated shortfall.  Disability expenditures have increased primarily due to demographic trends.  When Congress took action in 1994 to address a shortfall in SSDI, it knew that it would have to take action again in 2015 or 2016. Unfortunately, some in Congress have politicized this anticipated shortfall and threatened to delay action in order to force cuts throughout the entire Social Security program.

On Medicare, the 2015 Trustees report shows slowing the growth of health care costs has improved Medicare’s Trust Fund.

·         Medicare solvency remains greatly improved thanks to passage of healthcare reform, with the program paying full benefits until 2030, the same as predicted in the 2014 report and 13 years later than was projected in the last report issued prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act.

·         HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell reports Medicare Part B premiums are not projected to increase for about 70% of beneficiaries in 2016. 

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