Category: Max Richtman
Americans of all ages understand that the success of our nation has been built on the fundamental truth that strong working families have historically been the backbone of our thriving country. However, many in Washington continue to push for their failed fiscal policies which have shifted our nation’s resources away from the middle-class to the wealthy while pitting the young versus the old in a political sleight of hand designed to cut programs vital to both.
NCPSSM President, Max Richtman, is proud to push back against this political propaganda at a rally this week in Rep. Paul Ryan’s hometown in Wisconsin and in this joint op-ed published with the organization Every Child Matters.
A tale of two Janesvilles?
The Capital Times – Madison, WI
In 1900 the U.S. infant mortality rate was 165 deaths per 1,000 live births. Today it is six. In 1960 the elderly had the highest poverty rate and had no access to affordable health care. Today their poverty rate is the lowest and persons 65 and older are covered by Medicare.
How are these tremendous advancements in human health and dignity related? They are the direct result of the American people telling their elected federal officials — presidents and Congresses both — to stop the preventable deaths of babies, and to stop the avoidable last years of poverty and medical despair for those who had contributed so much over a lifetime. And it worked, the direct result of voter and taxpayer support for smart investments in the common welfare.
These and scores of other social advances over the last century contributed to most Americans enjoying perhaps the highest standard of living in the world. In combination with the benefits of a moderately regulated market economy, America’s national investments in its citizens — in itself — produced the planet’s strongest military and economic power. Now there are some in power who would junk this formula.
That is why we will appear jointly at a rally in Janesville on Thursday. As lifetime advocates for children and seniors, we believe the budget crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan marks a radical, ideologically driven departure from decades of pragmatic, successful bipartisan policies aimed at lifting all Americans. Now, already adopted by his House GOP colleagues, Congressman Ryan’s plan proposes to break federal commitments to citizens over the next decade to pay for tax cuts and subsidies for wealthy individuals and corporations.
Even though this latest version of trickle-down economics was soundly rejected by voters just five months ago, Ryan has revived his vision for sharply cutting social spending, threatening programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, WIC, school lunches — that have improved lives for millions. If his vision prevails, big insurance companies could once again deny help to millions with pre-existing conditions. Tens of thousands of eager young learners could be denied Head Start. Seniors would face higher out-of-pocket costs while having to navigate the private marketplace with their Medicare vouchers.
The Janesville area has two members of Congress, who hold completely different views on the budget. Mark Pocan, who represents Congressional District 2, takes a balanced approach of targeted cuts to low-priority programs plus new revenues, starting with the elimination of unnecessary corporate tax breaks. He would preserve and strengthen proven safety-net programs in the face of a rapidly aging population and make critical investments in children and youth in order to remain competitive in a global economy.
The Janesville area also is represented by Congressman Ryan, in Congressional District 1. His budget does not solve the problems America’s families’ face. It does not address rampant child abuse and neglect, nor child poverty, nor millions of children in poor-quality child care, nor numerous other challenges facing children and youth. Nor does it address the high unemployment facing many seniors who must work past retirement age, nor the growing out-of-pocket health care costs, nor the poor conditions in many nursing homes, nor the need for a revised cost-of-living formula specifically for seniors, nor numerous other challenges facing elders.
Can there be another community in America faced with such completely different visions of the role of government put forward by its federal representatives? Similarly, could our own organizations be more different, one advocating for those at the beginning of life, the other at the end of life? In fact, their fates and lives are intertwined. Grandparents love their grandkids, and grandkids their grandparents. Both want the other to succeed. The GOP House budget would make achieving such success more difficult.
Michael Petit is the president of Every Child Matters, a national child advocacy organization. Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [entitlement reform], [Max Richtman], [Retirement]
Originally posted on Huffington Post by Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
When I met with President Obama and other allied groups at the White House just after his reelection, his commitment to carry out the promises made during the campaign seemed clear and unambiguous. The President acknowledged Social Security should not be a part of the deficit debate. This was especially important to millions of American families still struggling in this economy who depend on Social Security’s modest benefit -- the benefit they’ve contributed to throughout their working lives. Unfortunately, within months, President Obama’s unambiguous statement has taken a 180 degree turn and a proposal cutting Social Security benefits for both current and future retirees has once again become a deficit debate bargaining chip. However, as a consolation, the President promises he won’t “slash” benefits.
Mr. President, please define “slash”.
The Stealth Benefit Cut
There’s a political calculus behind cutting benefits to millions of seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and more by reducing the federal cost of living allowance. Cutting the COLA is being pitched as a simple “technical tweak” or “formula adjustment” that’s more accurate than the current COLA formula. Sounds reasonable, right? However, claims that the current COLA is too generous are demonstrably false. So much so, the White House is considering “protecting” millions of low-income Americans, some veterans and “older” beneficiaries from this COLA cut. If the chained-CPI really is a more accurate formula, why the exemption?
The Social Security COLA has averaged just over 2% over the past five years with 0% for two of those years, far below the largest expenditure increase for most seniors, health care. If accuracy, not cutting benefits, is the goal then we should be talking about the elderly formula (CPI-E) which factors in seniors’ health care costs and has been under review by the federal government for decades. However, that won’t happen because there’s no guarantee the CPI-E will cut benefits. The chained CPI, on the other hand, will. This COLA change is nothing more than a stealth benefit cut Washington politicians hope will fly under the radar of the millions of American families it targets. On behalf of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare’s millions of members and supporters I’ve written to the President about his COLA proposal:
“The ‘chained CPI’ is not a ‘technical tweak,’ and no amount of rationalization can make it so. In reality, the chained CPI is a benefit cut for the oldest and most vulnerable Americans who would be least able to afford it. To offer to trade it away outside the context of a comprehensive Social Security solvency proposal ignores the fact that Social Security does not even belong in this debate because it does not contribute to the deficit. Cutting Social Security benefits to reduce the deficit is unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans across all ages and political affiliation.”
Slash? You Decide
Cutting benefits by adopting the chained CPI, as proposed by the White House, would cut the COLA by 3% for workers retired for ten years and 6% for workers retired for twenty years. This translates to a benefit cut of $130 per year in Social Security benefits for a typical 65 year-old, including today’s retirees. The cumulative cut for that individual would be $4,631 or more than three months of benefits by age 75; $13,910 or nearly a year of benefits by age 85; and $28,004, more than a year and a half of benefits by age 95. Losing three months up to more than a year and half of income would count as “slashing benefits” by anyone’s standards, especially for America’s oldest retirees, veterans and people with disabilities living on modest incomes. These chained CPI cuts also deliver a larger percentage cut to seniors’ annual income than the tax increases on the wealthiest Americans passed earlier this year deliver to our nation’s millionaires. An analysis by Dean Baker with the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows the after tax income for wealthy Americans was reduced by less than 0.7 percent after January’s tax hike. By comparison, the percentage of income Social Security beneficiaries will lose would be three times as much if the chained CPI is adopted.
So Much for “Shared Sacrifice”
Requiring benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the name of deficit reduction has always been the goal of the billion dollar corporate and Wall Street backed crisis campaign driving Washington’s deficit hysteria. These millionaires, billionaires and their supporters in Congress have used the economic recession to fuel their anti-Social Security and Medicare mission. The Obama administration and some Democrats in Congress have bought into the flawed idea that they must trade away middle-class benefits just to get Republicans to the table and further, if a millionaire loses a tax break then the middle class and poor most also lose their modest benefits in Medicare or Social Security. There’s nothing balanced about this type of deal. But it does explain how the deficit reduction passed since 2011 includes 75% cuts (mostly to programs serving the poor and middle-class) and only 25% revenue increases (not just from the wealthy). This mythological “shared sacrifice” continues as President Obama has now told Congress he’s "willing to back $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax revenue" in any future deal. Even that isn’t enough for Republicans who expect average Americans to foot the entire deficit reduction bill through program cuts rather than closing the trillion dollars of wasteful millionaire and corporate loopholes and tax breaks.
“In addition, we should not fool ourselves that your negotiating partners will be satisfied with lowering Social Security COLAs or raising the Medicare eligibility age. Each debt limit increase, Continuing Resolution or sequestration will give them a second, third and fourth ‘bite at the apple.’ In November, you won the confidence of the American people by defending the middle class. I urge you not to let them down now by supporting a deal that undermines the last remaining retirement security pillars for middle-class Americans.” Letter to President Obama, March 20, 2013
Americans Won’t Be Fooled
Inside the Beltway, members of Congress might also be able to kid themselves that middle-class families won’t notice a Social Security benefit cut here and a Medicare benefit cut there. However, they will find a very different truth when they go home to their Congressional districts. Not because America is a nation of “takers” or “greedy geezers” but because Americans understand the difference between harmful benefit cuts to the poor and middle-class and reasonable reforms, such as lifting the Social Security payroll tax cap and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. They don’t believe a dollar in millionaire taxes is the same as a dollar cut from the average annual $14,000 earned Social Security benefit. Most importantly, the American people are willing to pay to preserve and even strengthen these vital benefits. They’ve said this over and over again, most recently at the polls in November.
Will Congress listen now that the election is over? If not, they shouldn’t be surprised that voters deliver the same message when they return to the polls next time.
CATEGORY: [entitlement reform], [Max Richtman], [Presidential Politics], [Social Security]
Today’s release of the GOP/Ryan budget
reminds us of the famous line, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Today marks the third time House Republicans have released the Ryan budget, which in Rep. Paul Ryan’s Orwellian terms he’s also named a “Path to Prosperity.” Thankfully the result again this year will likely be the same. Dead on arrival. We say thankfully because, once again, this budget pretends deficit reduction alone is economic recovery, while ignoring the financial realities millions of America’s middle-class families still face in this slow economy. This plan also targets seniors in Medicaid with cuts, a “coupon care” plan for Medicare which would ultimately end traditional Medicare, and a fast-track plan to cut Social Security benefits:
“Once again, House Republicans have re-introduced the same flawed budget approach middle-class Americans have rejected in poll after poll and most importantly at the ballot box. Rather than deal with the true challenges facing this nation including, slow economic growth, high unemployment, and unprecedented income inequality, the GOP/Ryan budget targets middle-class seniors and their families with massive cuts to pay for tax cuts benefiting huge corporations and the wealthiest among us. Americans want a balanced approach to the national budget. This cuts-only plan isn’t it.
The Ryan plan would create vouchers in Medicare leaving seniors and the disabled – some of our most vulnerable Americans – hostage to the whims of private insurance companies. Over time, this will end traditional Medicare and make it harder for seniors to choose their own doctor. Vouchers are designed not to keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance… that is why they save money. If the GOP/Ryan budget becomes law, seniors would immediately lose billions in prescription drug savings, free wellness visits and preventative services provided in the ACA, and the Part D donut hole returns.
Destroying traditional Medicare and leaving millions of Americans without adequate health coverage is not a path to prosperity for anyone except for-profit insurers. The American people understand that.” Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
Senate Democrats have also prepared their budget plan which will be released tomorrow. According to Huffington Post, the Democratic Budget plan:
“... calls for $975 billion in additional revenues through closing loopholes and ending tax expenditures. The budget, unlike Ryan's, doesn't close the door on going beyond the fiscal cliff deal either; it calls for the continuation of current tax rates for middle and lower class Americans but does not specify whether current rates should be protected for high-end earners.
“While House Republicans are doubling down on the extreme budget that the American people already rejected, Senate Democrats are going to be working on a responsible budget that puts jobs and the economy first and reflects the values and priorities of middle class families across the country,” read a statement from Murray.
A top Senate Democratic aide said that the specifics -- including where rates should be set, which loopholes should be closed, and which expenditures should be ended -- would be left to the Senate Finance Committee. The Murray budget does give the Finance Committee some help, though, offering parliamentary instructions (known as reconciliation) to help ensure the tax reform bill it produces will be granted an up-or-down vote.
While the $975 billion figure is ambitious, the Senate aide pointed to a report by the Center for American Progress that showed $1 trillion in savings could be gained through "reducing or reforming tax breaks."
On the spending side, Murray's budget looks for $493 billion in domestic cuts, $275 billion of which will come from health care savings. The aide said that those health care savings, which will also be determined by the Finance Committee, would be felt solely on the provider side and not among beneficiaries. Additionally, the budget calls for $240 billion in defense spending cuts and $242 billion in reduced interest payments.
Those savings in total will replace the sequestration-related cuts that went into effect on March 1. Over a ten-year window, they will reduce the deficit by $1.95 trillion. But since Murray's budget also sets aside $100 billion for economic stimulus measures -- $50 billion on repairing highest transportation priorities, $10 billion on projects of major regional importance and the rest on other items like worker training -- the total savings will be measured at $1.85 trillion.”
These budgets clearly lay out starkly different priority choices. Especially for middle-class families and retirees who understand first hand the value of programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and who want those programs preserved for future generations.
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [Max Richtman], [Medicare], [privatization], [Social Security]
While touted as a “new” plan by the mainstream media, the latest Bowles/Simpson (BS) deficit reduction proposal is really just more of the same -- requiring middle-class benefit cuts and tax hikes to reduce the deficit.
“Their plan once again calls for cuts that are out of sync with middle class American’s priorities. Adopting the chained CPI, as Bowles Simpson propose, would mean an immediate benefit cut of $130 per year for the typical 65-year old retiree and would grow exponentially to a $1,400 cut after 30 years of retirement. This chained CPI proposal isn’t a “tweak” or an “adjustment,” it’s designed to cut benefits and raises taxes, largely on the poor and middle class, totaling $208 billion over ten years. $112 billion of those benefits cuts come from Social Security alone with up to $24 billion coming from VA benefits and civilian and military retirement pay cuts. That’s a lot of money…out of the pockets of those who can least afford to sacrifice even more. “…Max Richtman, President/CEO
While BS claims a goal of “shared sacrifice” let’s not forget that already 75% of deficit reduction has come from benefit cuts. Their latest version simply doubles-down on that formula asking for $2.4 trillion dollars more in savings, again largely from middle class Americans. Think Progress breaks it down:
Between the budget deals in the spring of 2011 and the Budget Control Act, which averted the debt ceiling crisis that same year, spending has been cut by $1.5 trillion and interest payments reduced by another $200 billion. Then the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which solved the impasse over the “fiscal cliff,” raised $600 billion in new tax revenue.
So if Simpson-Bowles are interested in “building upon” what lawmakers have already achieved, the logical thing to propose is another $1.4 trillion in spending cuts plus another $2 trillion in additional tax revenue. Or if they’re happy with their new $4.8 trillion target — rather than the original $6.3 trillion — their new proposal should heavily favor tax increases, since deficit reduction so far has favored spending cuts by three to one. Instead, Simpson and Bowles are proposing $1.8 trillion in new spending cuts and reduced interest payments, and only $600 billion in additional revenue.
It’s also worth noting that the additional revenue, once again, does not target those who’ve benefited most in this economy. Instead, BS will hit middle-class Americans with higher taxes while lowering tax rates for corporations and the wealthy:
“They’re still singing the gospel of revenue increases funded by “closing loopholes,” an amorphous plan that’s likely to hit the middle class with much more force than it would higher earners. They claim that the tax code is “riddled with well over $1 trillion of tax expenditures – which really are just spending by another name.”
And then they repeat their call for lowering tax rates for corporations and the highest-earning individuals.
Their $1-trillion-plus target for “tax expenditure” elimination can only be reached by targeting employer health plans, home mortgage interest deductions, and other policies that would disproportionately hit the already-beleaguered middle class.
Their approach would convert a social insurance program into a welfare program – but one which is solely funded on income below the payroll tax cap (roughly $110,000 at the moment). That plan targets everyone BUT the wealthy in the name of deficit reduction. That fact, coupled with Simpson and Bowles’ continued insistence on lowering tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, illustrates the right-wing thinking that underlies this supposedly “bipartisan” approach.” Richard Eskow, Our Future Blog
Once again, BS ignores the fact that according to the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections, Medicare spending over the 2011-2020 period has already fallen by more than $500 billion since late 2010. This inconvenient truth undermines the Bowles/Simpson meme that Medicare must be radically overhauled and seniors’ benefits slashed to lower costs. Allowing time for health care reform’s full implementation, given the lower spending costs already reported, is only reasonable. However, it simply doesn’t fit the BS frame that the only way to cut the deficit is to cut seniors’ benefits. The deficit reduction debate and Congress’ many self-induced fiscal crises provide anti-entitlement crusaders the best opportunity they’ve had in a lifetime to radically overhaul America’s retirement and health safety net. They know time is of the essence because reports of economic recovery and federal health savings undermine their campaign to blame our nation’s economic woes on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
We don’t have to slash benefits to the middle-class and poor Americans to reduce the deficit. The BS plan to cut COLA’s and raise taxes through the chained-CPI, cutting Medicare benefits by further means testing and eliminating Medicare eligibility for millions of younger retirees is not shared sacrifice. It’s not fiscal responsibility and it’s certainly does not represent the economic priorities of the vast majority of Americans of all ages and political parties.
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [fiscal commission], [Max Richtman], [Medicare], [Retirement], [Social Security]
There was a lot to like about yesterday’s State of the Union address. Here are a few highlights:
President Barack Obama State of the Union, January 12, 2013
“It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country."
"Most Americans Democrats, Republicans, and Independents understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity."
"The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next."
"Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan."
"We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies…We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare."
"Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep but we must keep the promises we’ve already made."
NCSSM President Max Richtman was invited to watch the State of the Union along with other national advocates last night and meet with White House staff in a post-speech briefing. He was encouraged by the President’s focus on economic recovery:
“President Obama is right to keep his focus on economic recovery, including job creation and economic investment. His promise to restore the basic bargain that built this country must include preserving and strengthening the nation’s retirement and health security programs, Social Security and Medicare. There are Medicare reforms that can save money such as reducing taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies as the President proposed tonight. We can also allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, allow prescription drug re-importation in Part D and lift the payroll tax cap in Social Security.” NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman
However, the news wasn’t all good for seniors who depend on Medicare and Social Security as the President, once again, urged increased means-testing for Medicare and left the door open for Social Security benefit cuts by changing the cost of living allowance formula.
“Reform proposals such as Medicare means testing, as the President proposed tonight, or cutting the annual COLA through the adoption of a chained CPI as the President has said remains on the table, will violate his promise not to ‘damage a secure retirement’.
We urge the President to stick to his previously stated views that Social Security’s long-term solvency should not be a part of the deficit debate since it’s not a driver of our deficits. Contrary to the political spin, changing the cost of living formula for millions, including; veterans, retirees, and people with disabilities isn’t a “technical change” it’s an immediate benefit cut. For seniors it means $130 per year for the typical 65-year old retiree that would grow exponentially to a $1,400 cut after 30 years of retirement.
While we welcome President Obama’s continued efforts to move Congress toward a path of fiscal responsibility, America’s seniors know that in Washington, so-called ‘sensible reforms’ can mean virtually anything. We urge the President to remember that reducing already modest benefits to seniors isn’t the path to economic growth.”…Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
It certainly sounds reasonable to “ask more from the wealthiest seniors,” as the President proposed last night, right? But that’s already happened in Medicare. Medicare is already means-tested with beneficiaries who earn above $85,000 already paying higher premiums. So, if that’s not enough, who does the President actually consider as a “wealthy senior?” How about someone earning $47,000? The truth is current proposals to increase Medicare means testing would hit far more than “wealthy” seniors. In fact the Kaiser Foundation found that middle-class retirees earning just $47,000 would be hit with higher costs. Increased Medicare means-testing is simply another way to pass costs to middle-class seniors…not the "wealthy" receiving Medicare.
“And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.” …President Obama
This intergenerational warfare argument attempts to pits America’s young versus old and is a favorite of the Pete Peterson/anti-Social Security crowd. It also ignores the reality that seniors aren’t “greedy geezers” who are only interested in preserving their own benefits at the expense of their children and grandchildren. Quite the opposite. Seniors understand the value of these programs and know future generations will depend on them, as much or even more than they do. Seniors have a unique perspective, having participated in the private healthcare system and in Medicare. They know, first hand, that Medicare isn’t the problem. Instead, Medicare should be used as a model to guide the improvement of our entire American health care system. Medicare remains more efficient than private health care and many of the quality driven reforms the President touted last night are already happening in Medicare. The growing aging population isn’t news but it does provide opportunities for innovation that could lead to meaningful reform of America’s private health care system that still costs more and provides less than health care in other industrialized countries. It’s time for Washington to stop blaming the program for a problem it didn’t create, while pitting young versus old at the same time.
But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. . . After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? How does that promote growth?...President Obama
It's clearly not fair, especially when you consider that 75% of deficit reduction has already come from cuts impacting average Americans.
For too long, many in Washington have pretended that "shared sacrifice" means that if a millionaire loses a tax break then the middle-class and poor must also lose their modest benefits in Medicare or Social Security. This false equivalency pretends that a tax dollar lost to a millionaire or huge corporation is the same as a benefit dollar lost to a retiree living on $14,000 a year from Social Security. America’s seniors know that’s not a fair and balanced approach, it’s not sensible reform and it’s not the path to economic recovery…Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement...President Obama
Cutting Social Security benefits by $130 each year starting immediately with the adoption of the Chained CPI and shifting costs to middle-class seniors in Medicare will absolutely threaten the secure retirement for millions of American seniors. The average retiree receives only $14,000 per year in Social Security yet 75% of seniors paid $10,000 in out of pocket health care costs, even with Medicare.
Seniors received an average COLA of 1.3% over 4 years with no increases in two of those years. Arguing that these benefits are too generous and seniors have to sacrifice even more in the name of deficit reduction shows how out of touch Washington has become with the real-world economic realities facing average Americans, especially seniors.
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [Budget], [entitlement reform], [healthcare], [Max Richtman], [Medicare], [Presidential Politics], [Retirement], [Social Security], [stimulus]
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