From the category archives: Max Richtman
Seniors advocates with the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Committee joined Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in a press event today to express their opposition to legislation that would cut $700 million from Medicare to pay for a slice of the Trade Deal now being debated in Congress.
“Medicare is not the piggy bank for other programs. We’ve already seen what sequester has meant for the program. We’ve written to Congress because there’s just not enough awareness on this issue. Across the board cuts affects the integrity of the Medicare program.” Rich Fiesta, Alliance for Retired Americans Executive Director
“The use of Medicare cuts, 700 million dollars of Medicare cuts, to finance a program totally unrelated to Medicare sets a terrible precedent. It’s not death by a thousand cuts but that’s where we seem to be headed. I think it’s interesting that many of the same members of Congress who condemned Obamacare and decried savings in the Medicare program as cuts--savings which were, by the way, plowed right back into the program to provide preventive screenings, close the Part D donut hole and extend the program’s solvency--are now some of the same legislators who want to really cut money from Medicare to pay for an unrelated program.” Max Richtman, National Committee President/CEO
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Task Force on Seniors are leading the charge against this proposal:
“10,000 people a day turn 65. We should be investing and expanding Medicare not stealing from it. People have paid into this program and expect it to be there...not to use that to fund anytime we need money to pay for another program...Medicare is not the ATM for everything Congress wants to pay for. Cutting this social insurance program isn’t the direction we should be going in. Medicare should not be the pay-for for trade deal. The best way to help workers is to stop trade deals that take their jobs...not cut Medicare to fund fixes.” Rep. Jan Shakowsky (D-IL)
“There’s going to be untold riches earned if TPP is enacted into law. There’s no doubt about that. Great profits will be derived for large international corporations...it seems only logical that the multinationals should fund the costs of the Trade Adjustment Assistance. I can not abide this. We’ll fight it with everything we have.” Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Reps. Ellison and Schakowsky say many of their colleagues don’t even realize this Medicare cut was slipped into the Trade Assistance provision. They’re raising the alarm but hope seniors and their families will also call and email their Members of Congress now since the debate is underway.
You can do that easily from our Leg Action Center.
Chances are if you’re a regular reader of this blog, the last issue you’d expect to see us write about is the hotly-debated and barely understood TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade deal. After all, keeping up with and explaining policy issues impacting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is complicated enough, so yes, we really didn’t plan on wading too deep into the trade deal. (Although you can read NCPSSM’s take on TPP and drug prices here.)
Unfortunately, that changed this week with news that Congress (with the White House running silent) intends to cut $700 million from the Medicare program to pay for a slice of the trade package. We talked to Michael Hiltzik the Los Angeles Times about this back-door attack on Medicare:
“The plan on Capitol Hill is to move the Trade Assistance Program expansion in tandem with fast-track approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, possibly as early as this week. We explained earlier the dangers of the fast-track approval of this immense and largely secret trade deal. But the linkage with the assistance program adds a new layer of political connivance: Congressional Democrats demanded the expansion of the Trade Assistance Program, Congressional Republicans apparently found the money in Medicare, and the Obama White House, which should be howling in protest, has remained silent.
Medicare advocates have taken up the slack by raising the alarm. "To take this cut and apply it to something completely unrelated sets a terrible precedent," Max Richtman, head of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, told me.
The Medicare raid was so stealthy that critics in Congress, including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are just now gearing up to oppose it. "It was sort of buried" in the bill, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the caucus co-chair, told me Monday.”
Funding the Trade Assistance Program is necessary to help Americans workers expected to lose their jobs because of this trade deal receive job training and assistance. However, telling American workers they have to trade away health care benefits in their retirement in order to get job training when they lose their job now is incredibly mercenary, even by Washington standards.
This isn’t the first time Medicare has been Congress’ piggy bank. This move follows last year’s vote to extend the Medicare sequester cuts into 2024 to cover a reversal of cost-of-living cuts to veterans' pension benefits. Shifting Medicare funds to other programs seems to be Congress’ new go-to budget approach. That’s pretty ironic given that the GOP has spent millions of campaign dollars claiming Obamacare cut Medicare benefits (which is didn’t):
“This is different from the $700-billion cost reduction in Medicare enacted via the Affordable Care Act. That includes efforts to make the program more efficient by improving the incentives governing how doctors and hospitals deliver care to their patients, along with reductions in payments to Medicare Advantage plans. Richtman points out that much of this amounts to a reallocation within Medicare -- "it's piled back into the program by paying for improvements in preventive care, closing the 'doughnut' hole in Medicare Part D (the prescription drug benefit)" and other measures. In the broadest sense, the cost reductions in Medicare are netted against other healthcare costs within the Affordable Care Act.
By contrast, the new proposal would take $700 million out of Medicare, period. Nothing in the TAA will help Medicare function better, augment its services to members, or cover healthcare costs. Slicing into physician and hospital reimbursements may have the opposite effect, by reducing members' access to care. "I'd characterize this as money stolen from Medicare," Richtman says.”
We recommend you read Michael Hiltzik’s entire story at the Los Angeles Times
Orginally published in Huffington Post.
by Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
About this time ten years ago it was becoming clear that President George Bush’s plan to forever change Social Security by turning the program over to Wall Street was on the ropes. Even though his Social Security privatization road tour still had two more months of scheduled stops, the more the President talked about his plan, the less people liked it. Gallup reported disapproval of privatizing Social Security rose by 16 points from 48 to 64 percent between the President’s State of the Union address and June. It was an incredibly risky and unpopular idea that rapidly flat-lined thanks to the overwhelming rejection by the public. Yet here we are a decade later and conservatives campaigning for Congress and the White House are resuscitating the Bush strategy by offering up approaches to Social Security which are stark reminders that the GOP playbook really hasn’t changed that much.
What Else Has NOT Changed
Americans of all ages, political parties and income levels, continue to oppose cutting Social Security benefits through privatization or other means. They understand the retirement crisis is real. A recent Gallup poll reports more non-retirees believe Social Security will be a major source of income in their retirement now than at any point in the last 15 years. The National Academy of Social Insurance’s survey, "Americans Make Hard Choices on Social Security" shows that Americans' support for Social Security is unparalleled and they are willing to pay more in taxes to stabilize the system's finances and improve benefits. Seven out of 10 participants prefer a package that would eliminate Social Security's long-term financing gap without cutting benefits.
Even though Americans clearly understand the value of Social Security and are willing to pay more to strengthen it, Republicans in Congress and GOP candidates for President continue to push for Social Security cuts and/or privatization plans. Governor Chris Christie may have hoped savaging the program would give him the attention and conservative credentials needed to revive his flagging poll numbers before announcing his Presidential campaign against a roster of other candidates who already offered their own plans to cut Social Security benefits. The GOP Presidential primary has become a race to see who can deny more benefits for seniors, people with disabilities, survivors and their families faster. While cutting benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid isn’t really new among conservatives, what has changed in the decade since the Democrats led the charge against Social Security privatization is how some Democrats are now talking about these vital programs in the language of the conservatives.
Why Opposing Privatization Isn’t Enough
During the last decade I’ve observed a growing willingness by some Democrats to buy into the conservative mythology that targeting average Americans for benefit cuts makes them more “honest” and “courageous” than other politicians. This Republican talking point is built on the false premise that supporting successful federal programs which keep millions of Americans economically and medically secure is “pandering to seniors” while supporting billionaire tax breaks and corporate giveaways costing the federal treasury billions of dollars is “fiscal responsibility.”
Ten years ago Democrats were united in their opposition to Social Security privatization. That’s still largely true today; however, given the lessons of the past decade, opposing privatization simply isn’t enough to convince constituents that their benefits are fully protected. The broader questions voters should ask incumbents and candidates alike include: Do they support benefit cuts in any other form such as the Chained CPI, raising the retirement age, and means testing? Do they support the failed Bowles-Simpson plan which would have done all of these things? Do they support the reallocation of trust fund monies to avoid a 20 percent cut to Social Security disability benefits? The answers to these questions can reveal the truth about a candidate’s vision for the future of Social Security and the generations of Americans who have earned their benefits. “I oppose privatization” was enough ten years ago but it doesn’t tell us whether an incumbent has been a Social Security defender or benefit cuts collaborator in the many battles since then.
While it’s safe for Democrats to declare their opposition to privatization, the bolder step they need to make in this politically charged benefit-cuts environment is to demand that any Social Security conversation must address benefit adequacy as well as long-term solvency. It’s clear that the majority in Congress has little interest in protecting this program even though our nation faces a retirement crisis leaving the average working household with virtually no retirement savings. The truth is Congress should Boost Social Security benefits not cut them. That’s a position that demonstrates true political leadership. Not because it’s unrealistic or opportunistic, as the billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby would like you to believe, but because it pushes back against a decade long quest to cut Social Security benefits as the next best thing to privatization. “Death by a thousand cuts” is a political goal the American people simply can not afford nor should they have to. We have Democratic and Independent leaders in Congress who understand this and they support legislation to improve Social Security benefits. The National Committee has endorsed numerous pieces of legislation that would enhance Social Security, boost benefits, lift the payroll tax cap and adopt the more accurate consumer price index for the elderly (CPI-E). Proposals like the Social Security 2100 Act not only improve benefits but also extend Social Security’s long-term solvency.
I believe the old truism that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. When Democrats were unified in representing the American people’s views on Social Security they were on the correct side of the issue from both a policy and political perspective. Defeating the privatization of Social Security saved millions of Americans from an even worse economic fate than they already suffered through during the great recession. Current and future Democratic lawmakers now have an opportunity to do the right thing again by joining the growing Boost Social Security movement and supporting legislation which would improve benefits while also strengthening the program’s long-term outlook.
Hyperbole -- fact twisting and sheer omission -- false truths presented by “courageous truth-tellers.” None of this is really new to American politics. However, today New Jersey Governor Chris Christie deployed all of these time-worn propaganda techniques to unveil his plan to cut $1 trillion in benefits (that’s $1,000,000,000,000) from generations of Americans who will depend on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
He says it’s all about “fairness.” However, he proposes not a single dime of new revenue and has no problem with average Americans paying payroll taxes on all of their income while the wealthy do not.
Apparently, slashing pensions in New Jersey to preserve his no tax pledge simply isn’t enough. Now he hopes to do the same nationwide. In spite of his promise to offer the GOP Presidential primary race something new, today’s comments were merely a recitation and doubling-down on the same GOP claims that our nation can’t afford to honor its commitment to America’s workers and future retirees.
NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, sums it up this way:
“The Governor’s plan to means-test Social Security, cutting off some Americans and transitioning the program from an earned benefit to welfare has long been the goal of those who oppose social insurance programs. It seems the Governor acknowledges that his flagging Presidential campaign needed a jolt because today’s speech was far more about burnishing Governor Christie’s conservative credentials than offering new proposals that could help America’s workers and retirees. He certainly isn’t showing bold leadership by claiming we must cut middle-class benefits, while protecting tax expenditures benefiting huge corporations and the wealthy. That’s been the GOP position for a very long time. Today Governor Christie joins a long line of conservative politicians who hope to convince voters they are “courageous truth-tellers” when in truth their goal is to dismantle the very programs which have kept millions from poverty.
The majority of Americans – of all ages, no matter their political party -- opposes cutting already modest benefits and is willing to pay more to boost the program. They understand Social Security and Medicare are not welfare programs nor should they be. Getting any GOP Presidential candidate to acknowledge that fact takes true political courage. But unfortunately that’s not the ‘red meat’ the GOP’s conservative base expects to hear nor the truth candidates like Governor Christie are willing to tell.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
While he claims “no one” will talk about cutting benefits like he will, the fact is, the past decade has seen numerous attacks on the programs from Presidents, Presidential commissions, Congressional “Gangs of 6” and too many legislative proposals to even list here. Senate Governor Christie is merely the latest in a growing list of GOP Presidential candidates who all promote the same “strengthen = slash” approach. They tout their protection of poorer seniors while proposing benefit cuts, cost sharing and means testing that will impact millions of poor and middle-class beneficiaries. Each candidate also follows the conservative-crafted playbook which promises current retirees (who consistently vote) will be protected from cuts, instead targeting their children and grandchildren (who aren’t thinking about retirement yet) for even smaller benefits.
Many GOP Candidates – Same Social Security & Medicare Approach
- Senator Ted Cruz supports privatizing Social Security, turning Medicare into “Coupon Care”, raising the retirement age and Medicare eligibility age, and cutting Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs). Each of these proposals would cut benefits well below the current $1,200 average monthly benefit.
- Senator Rand Paul has called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and supports allowing people to opt out of the program. He also supports raising the retirement age and Medicare eligibility age, Social Security privatization, and raising seniors’ Medicare premiums and copayments.
- Senator Marco Rubio supports privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age and cutting Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs). He considers current benefits “generous” and supports the GOP/Ryan budget which turns Medicare into “Coupon Care”.
None of these candidates have expressed support for lifting the payroll tax cap so that wealthy Americans pay the same rate as everyone else or proposals addressing income adequacy for millions of beneficiaries of all ages.
Now, that would be a true act of political courage.
The House has passed the so-called "doc fix" legislation replacing the flawed reimbursement formula Congress itself created years ago to cut pay to doctors in Medicare. The formula has never worked and Congress has had to vote to replace it year after year. We've supported the permanent replacement of this flawed formula and still do. Unfortunately, the legislation that passed the House today merely trades one bad deal for another. And this time it's seniors who take the hit.
“Contrary to claims by supporters, on both sides of the aisle, this ‘doc fix’ does not impact only ‘wealthy seniors’. Millions of beneficiaries who depend on a Medigap plan to help pay their health care bills – no matter their income -- will be hit with higher costs. Given that 46% of all Medigap policy holders had incomes of $30,000 or less, it’s clear this deal impacts far more than the wealthy, as the bill’s proponents have claimed. What’s more, Medicare beneficiaries will be forced to contribute nearly $60 billion in premiums over the next decade to replace the SGR.
No doubt, we’ll hear today that this ‘compromise’ Medicare doc-fix plan must be a success because there are concessions from all sides. Unfortunately, that political trope is just as flawed as the SGR itself because it ignores the financial reality facing Medicare beneficiaries just as the SGR ignored the reality facing doctors. Trading a bad deal for doctors for a bad deal for seniors is not a legislative victory and it is a surprising move from some in Congress who have previously vowed to protect Medicare from cuts and seniors from cost-shifting.
It’s no surprise that anti-“entitlement” lobbyists on Capitol Hill and their allies in Congress are celebrating this deal for the benefit cuts they know will ‘grow like an avalanche over time’. That avalanche will be headed straight for American retirees, current and future, as Congress continues to push Medicare down the slippery slope of means testing, raising costs for more and more seniors, including the middle-class.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
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