The Congressional Budget Office’s new budget projections show that despite the sky-is-falling crisis calls made by Wall Street backed austerity fanatics like: Fix The Debt, Bowles-Simpson and the rest of the Pete Peterson funded anti-Social Security brigade, our deficit is now the smallest it's been since 2008. And that’s without the so-called “Grand Bargain” this billion dollar lobby claims is absolutely necessary for our nation’s survival. The Daily Intelligencer explains:
It's hard not to see the CBO's projections as the latest in a long series of demoralizing developments for the Simpson-Bowles-led deficit scold movement. Overall, the CBO says that barring unforeseen policy changes, the deficit will shrink to 2.1 percent of GDP in 2015. That's better than the 2.3 percent target Simpson and Bowles originally set out in their 2010 report. And it will happen even without the grand bargain they've so desperately sought.
Neither is the federal debt piling up to unsustainable levels. As the CBO's chart shows, the debt-to-GDP ratio is now projected to peak in 2014 at 76.2 percent, before falling to 70.8 percent in 2018. That's a long way from the now-discredited 90 percent threshold budget scolds have used to scare policymakers, and the projections —combined with record-low interest rates and eerily calm bond markets — should put our concerns about an immediate debt crisis to rest.
Now, it’s really hard to keep a crisis mentality ginned up if the facts keep getting in the way (see also the Reinhart Rogoff debacle). So, as expected, the Wall Streeters have chosen just to ignore what doesn’t fit their frame:
The Campaign to Fix the Debt, which marshals corporate resources to lobby for deficit reduction, said that "the rosier-than-expected near-term projections do not change the fact that rising health care costs, an aging population, Social Security’s looming insolvency, and ever-increasing interest payments will greatly expand the national debt as a share of the economy starting at the end of the current decade." The Hill Newspaper
Again, the true challenge facing this nation is health care costs. Reforms through the Affordable Care Act have helped reduce the deficit and system-wide reforms need to continue, not just in Medicare. Talking about Social Security and Medicare, as if they’re the same program, is a favored ploy of these Wall Streeters; however, it conveniently ignores the fact that there is $2.7 trillion currently in the Social Security trust fund and that figure keeps growing. Economist Jared Bernstein offers some too-little-heard fact-based analysis:
Longer term, even with the recent improvement in the pace of health care costs, we still face pressure from the intersection of our aging demographics and health care spending. To bend those curves at the end of the figure, we’ll need to keep up the pressure on health costs as well as boost our revenues. Cuts alone won’t do it.
It would be nice if policy makers looked at the figure below and recognized that we need less austerity now and more health savings/revs later. But that would mean spraying water on their flaming heads, and that can be kind of uncomfortable.
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [Medicare], [Social Security], [stimulus]
Contrary to the headlines and soundbites coming from America’s newsrooms, Social Security and Medicare aren’t to blame for our nation’s fiscal woes or our deficit. In fact, without these vital programs our economy would be in even worse shape and millions more American families would be threatened with economic insecurity. Why do so many journalists and news/talk-show hosts ignore the facts in favor of one-sided propaganda? Why won’t they allow all sides to weigh in on these important issues? Whatever the reasons, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare believes the public deserves more balanced research and discussion. The truth about our nation’s most successful and revered programs deserves EQUAL TIME.
Our new project, EQUAL TIME, will bust through the myths and misleading statements in the news about Social Security and Medicare. We will find and correct the factual errors and politically charged perspectives. We’ll use social media like Facebook and Twitter to inform the reporters, pundits and anchors when they’ve been the subject of an EQUAL TIME correction. In this way, we hope to influence the mainstream media to use facts, not fiction, in their coverage of these important programs.
Here's a look at our first Equal Time analysis:
An online form will also provide an easy way for advocates and citizens nationwide to submit news stories in which the media got it wrong and NCPSSM will track it down to provide the truth about Social Security and Medicare.
CATEGORY: [Medicare], [Social Security]
A new Rasmussen poll highlights the absurdity of Congress’ decision to swoop in and prove they can “work together” – at least when it’s in their own best interests – by lifting the sequester’s impact on the FAA.
“Congress cited public outrage as the reason for moving swiftly to end flight delays caused by the sequester. However, very few Americans were actually impacted.”
In fact, only 16% of Americans even know anyone impacted. Commentator Richard Eskow was among that tiny minority. He offers these thoughts:
“At no point during my mini-"ordeal" did I think "Boy, I'd be happy to cut my Social Security and everybody else's too so this won't happen again." The thought never even crossed my mind.
So I was disappointed when the President used his weekly national address to push, not for a total repeal of the sequester, but for his "compromise" austerity budget - a budget which includes unnecessary cuts to Social Security. The title of his address - "Time to Replace the Sequester with a Balanced Approach to Deficit Reduction" - betrays a continued unawareness of either the pain caused by these unwise cuts or the shifting economic reality which has discredited Washington's deficit mania.
The only sensible thing to do is to cancel the entire sequester. And stop trying to use it to gin up hysteria so they can put through other unpopular cuts. Just can it.”
As a reminder, here are just some of the real cuts Americans face because of this sequester:
Thousands of cancer patients are being turned away from cancer clinics for chemotherapy treatments due to Medicare cuts
140,000 low-income families – mostly disabled elders and families with children - are losing rental assistance vouchers
- 70,000 children are being kicked out of Head Start programs
- The Caregiver support program will be cut by $12.6 million
- The Meals on Wheels program will be cut by 17 million meals
“Michele Daley, director of nutrition services at the Local Office on Aging, which serves Roanoke, Alleghany, Botetourt and Craig counties in Virginia, said the agency expects to receive $95,000 less in federal funds this year (it has an operating budget of $1 million). They're gradually reducing the number of people receiving daily meals from 650 to 600 as a result of the budget cuts. Already, the office has planned to stop handing out most emergency meals -- bags of shelf-stable items like canned beans distributed in advance of snowstorms and holidays. And they've instituted a waiting list. "We've never had a waiting list," Daley said. "This is the first time ever and it's a direct result of sequestration." Huffington Post
Time Goes By blogger, Ronni Bennett expressed the frustration so many feel (outside the Beltway anyway),
“Judging from past performance and publicly professed ideology, I would have thought there are several senators who coulda/woulda/shoulda stopped this legislation: Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), maybe even my two Oregon senators, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
But no. Not one senator (nor even the president) took a principled stand for needy elders, children and their families not to mention Medicare cancer patients denied chemotherapy drugs, some of whom will die as a result. (Yes, they will.)
But never mind. Congress members and rich people will not be caused "unnecessary harm," (as White House Spokesman Carney so helpfully explained) by airport delays. This is the country we live in now. “
Rather than end on such a down note, we thought you’d also enjoy comedian Jon Stewart’s take on the whole ridiculous situation and Mike Thompson's editorial cartoon to help soften the edges of your outrage:
Mike Thompson: Detroit Free Press
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [Budget], [healthcare], [Medicare], [Retirement], [Social Security]
Sometimes we hate it when we’re right. Earlier this month we reported on the Obama administration’s policy reversal which not only blocked proposed cuts to massive private insurers in Medicare but actually give them a rate increase. As predicted, as soon as Washington gave the nation’s highly profitable private insurance industry their cookie --they asked for the milk.
Kaiser Health News explains how United Health’s CEO claims the company’s $2.1 billion profits last quarter just aren’t enough. They want taxpayers to pony up even more to subsidize their participation in Medicare.
KAISER HEALTH NEWS
If the Obama administration expected the biggest health insurance company to give thanks for this month’s decision to reverse cuts to private Medicare plans, it was wrong. UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen Hemsley said Thursday that Medicare Advantage rates are still far too low and that the company may shrink its business of managing care for seniors.
“We did not expect the fastest growing, most popular and most effective Medicare benefit option serving America’s seniors to be underfunded to this extent in 2014,” Hemsley said on a conference call with investment analysts. UnitedHealth’s Medicare Advantage business, he added, “will likely experience market exits as well as in market membership contraction as we reshape Medicare networks and benefits to respond to the continuing underfunding of this program.”
The administration’s decision to reverse cuts for Medicare Advantage, in which private insurers operate managed care networks for seniors, was seen as a significant industry victory. As the biggest seller of Medicare Advantage plans, UnitedHealth was deemed a primary beneficiary. More than one Medicare member in four is in a Medicare Advantage plan.
In February the Department of Health and Human Services surprised insurers by announcing a cut of more than 2 percent per Medicare member for 2014. The industry launched a lobbying and advertising campaign in protest. On April 1, the administration pulled back, announcing that instead of reducing payments it would raise them by 3.3 percent. UnitedHealth’s stock stock rose 8 percent that day and the next.
But in Thursday’s call to discuss the company’s quarterly profits of $2.1 billion on revenue of $30.3 billion, Hemsley said other changes — including the Affordable Care Act’s long-term reduction in Medicare Advantage payments – would still lead to a net reduction next year of more than 4 percent. That’s inadequate when medical costs are rising in the 3 percent neighborhood, he said.
CATEGORY: [entitlement reform], [Medicare], [Medicare Advantage], [privatization]
The White House provided reporters an early look at President Obama’s 2014 budget and the news for seniors is not good. This assessment by Firedoglake’s Daniel Wright sums it up best:
“President Barack Obama has once again started his negotiations by scoring into his own net. In what may be the dumbest plan yet proposed, Obama has offered cuts to Social Security hoping for a change in the Republican's position on tax loopholes for the wealthy.
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget will call for reductions in the growth of Social Security and other benefit programs by including a proposal to lower cost-of-living adjustments to government social safety net spending, a senior administration official says.
Because with poverty hitting new record levels, now is a great time to cut benefits”
The President’s budget plan ignores his statements made during and after the election that Social Security should not be used to cut the deficit and also his promises for a balanced fiscal approach that wouldn’t target middle-class Americans. In truth, President Obama’s budget will cut $127.2 billion in Social Security benefits by adopting the stingier Chained CPI and further means testing in Medicare. It also raises less than half the new revenue offered in previous proposals.
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. While the President has promised not to “slash” benefits, 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.
This budget also continues the lopsided deficit reduction strategy used since 2011 in which more than 75% of deficit reduction has come from program cuts. So much for a “balanced approach”.
As CEPR’s Dean Baker reminds us:
Since President Obama's proposal would lead to a 3 percent cut in Social Security benefits, it would reduce the income of the typical retiree by more than 2.0 percent, more than three times the size of the hit from the tax increase to the wealthy.
Here is NCPSSM President Max Richtman’s reaction to the President Obama’s budget:
“If news reports today are correct, President Obama will soon renege on his commitment to keep Social Security out of the deficit debate, ignoring his campaign promise to millions of Americans that he would protect vital middle class programs like Social Security. By including a proposal in his 2014 budget to change the current cost of living allowance formula to a stingier and less accurate Chained CPI, the President has suggested an immediate benefit cut of $130 per year for the typical 65-year old retiree that would grow exponentially to a $1,400 cut after 30 years of retirement.
Contrary to the political spin, 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. $127.2 billion of those benefits cuts come from Social Security with about $24 billion coming from VA benefits and civilian and military retirement pay cuts.
Seniors will have received an average COLA of 1.3% over 4 years with no increase in two of those years. Arguing that is too generous shows how out of touch Washington is with the real-world economic realities facing average Americans. Adopting the chained CPI is nothing more than a political sleight of hand targeting our nation’s middle class and poor.
This budget is also reported to include more means testing in Medicare and less than half the new revenue requested in earlier budget negotiations. The President’s budget is not the balanced plan promised to Americans before November’s election and will leave millions of middle-class families in even worse shape than they are today.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [Max Richtman], [Medicare], [Presidential Politics], [Social Security]
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