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From the category archives: Presidential Politics

Mulvaney Actively Subverting Trump’s Promises on Social Security and Medicare

We have been skeptical since last fall about President Trump’s promises not to touch Social Security and Medicare, partly because of the privatizers and cutters he appointed to high office.  Now, according to an article in today’s Washington Post by reporter Dave Weigel, Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, is actively agitating for the Trump administration to “work around” those promises:

"I’ve already started to socialize the discussion around here in the West Wing about how important the mandatory spending is to the drivers of our debt.  I think people are starting to grab it.”  - Mick Mulvaney on Hugh Hewitt radio program

Mulvaney claims that he is not really advocating that the President break his promises.  Instead, the budget chief seems to be playing a semantic game by redefining what Trump really meant.  

"Mulvaney… has said that any Republican reform would be consistent with Trump’s promise, by defining the act of ‘saving’ Social Security and Medicare as anything that allows them to meet obligations — even and especially if those obligations are reduced.” – Washington Post 3/6/17

That is a dubious bending of the President’s words on the campaign trail.  Mulvaney is, in effect saying, we have to cut Social Security and Medicare in order to save them, which is patently wrong.  The two programs could be kept solvent deep into the 21st century through modest and manageable measures that we have detailed many times since last Fall, with no benefit cuts.  In fact, Senator Bernie Sanders’ new bill in Congress would increase benefits and extend Social Security’s solvency until 2078.  

Mulvaney is being even more disingenuous, though, because candidate Trump explicitly promised not to cut either program.  Trump told a post-election rally in Des Moines in December:

"You’ve been paying into Social Security and Medicare… We’re not gonna cut your Social Security and we’re not cutting your Medicare.”  - President-elect Trump, December, 2016

It’s hard to see how Trump could have been any clearer, or how Mulvaney could claim the President could be convinced to cut Social Security and Medicare without violating his campaign promises.  Yet, Mulvaney’s proposals on earned benefits programs would undeniably lead to benefit cuts.   The Post points out that at his January confirmation hearing, he advocated raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, and supported means-testing to reduce Medicare spending, two unpopular measures with voters in the National Committee’s recent public poll.

Of course, Mulvaney is not the only Trump administration official gung ho to cut and privatize our retirement security programs.  HHS Secretary Tom Price played a similar word game to Mulvaney’s last week, affirming that Medicare is a “guarantee” to seniors while implying that it has to be modified in order to uphold the guarantee.   

We wrote last week about the potential bait-and-switch that the administration and Congressional leaders may use, by promising that current retirees won’t be affected by any changes, but that younger Americans might be by the time they are seniors. 

None of this lends much comfort to current or future retirees – nor offers much reassurance that the President’s promises on Social Security and Medicare won’t be eroded, if not now, then in the near future.


Trump Snubs Seniors in Speech to Congress

Millions of current and future retirees were no doubt hoping that President Trump would use last night’s speech to Congress to reaffirm his promises not to touch Social Security and Medicare.  Instead, the President ducked and covered.  He did not even utter the words “Social Security” or “Medicare” in his entire hour-long address.  As for Medicaid – which millions of American seniors rely upon for skilled nursing care – the President only touched on it once, with a veiled reference to converting guaranteed benefits into block grants, which would hurt beneficiaries.   

This begs the question – why the silence on Social Security and Medicare?  After all, during the campaign the President broke with Republican orthodoxy and repeatedly promised not to cut either earned benefit program. “I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare.  You made a deal a long time ago,” he told a crowd of supporters in November.  The most likely explanation for omitting America’s retirement security programs from last night’s speech is that the President knows his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill vehemently disagree with him.  

There are proposals in both the House and Senate to cut and privatize Social Security and Medicare.  In fact, voucherizing Medicare is one of Speaker Paul Ryan’s highest priorities.  Perhaps the President did not want to unnecessarily ruffle feathers on the Hill last night.  If so, his refusal to recommit to protecting Social Security and Medicare is not an encouraging sign. If he’s afraid to even mention his position in a speech to Congress, he may roll over on campaign promises under pressure from the Congressional GOP.

President Trump may also be leaving himself wiggle room in negotiations with Congress over Social Security and Medicare.  The problem is, any compromise on his promise will hurt seniors and people with disabilities who depend on these programs, whether it’s cutting benefits, raising the retirement age, or trimming COLAs.  He may also be setting up a dodge, where the Congress agrees not to cut Social Security or Medicare for current retirees while leaving open the possibility of downsizing or privatizing both programs for younger Americans.  This approach is based on the falsehood that cutting benefits for future retirees doesn’t hurt current seniors, and cynically pits one generation against the others for political expediency. Mark Miller of Reuters has an excellent piece today explaining this ploy:

"The [Republicans’] political goal will be to defang public opposition, since younger workers tend not to focus much on retirement when it is several decades away. But that approach is not going to work. Retirees and their advocacy groups will fiercely resist cutting benefits down the road, because they understand the critical importance of Social Security and Medicare benefits. They also care about the future retirement of their own children.  - Mark Miller, Reuters

Social Security and Medicare are commitments that the government made to working class Americans who paid into the system most of their lives.  The President could have confirmed that commitment last night and comforted seniors who are worried about losing their retirement security and healthcare.  His silence on Capitol Hill was not reassuring.

 

Medicare Privatization Tops the GOP Agenda

Well, that didn’t take long.  Just days after the election and already the GOP has confirmed, what we’ve been warning for months.  Destroying traditional Medicare in favor of a privatized CouponCare system is at the top of the Republican agenda.  In fact, they want it to happen as soon as next year.

“Below is a transcript of what Ryan said on Fox's Special Report, along with a flat out false statement suggesting that Obamacare has weakened Medicare's finances.

BRET BAIER: Your solution has always been to put things together including entitlement reform. That is Paul Ryan's plan. That's not Donald Trump's plan.

PAUL RYAN: Well, you have to remember, when Obamacare became Obamacare, Obamacare rewrote Medicare, rewrote Medicaid. If you are going to repeal and replace Obamacare, you have to address those issues as well. What a lot of folks don't realize is this 21-person board called the ipap is about to kick in with price controls on Medicare. What people don't realize is because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke, Medicare is going to have price controls because of Obamacare, Medicaid is in fiscal straits. You have to deal with those issues if you are going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Medicare has serious problems [because of] Obamacare. Those are part of our plan.” ...Talking Points Memo

Let’s be crystal clear about this – without Obamacare, Medicare’s Part A trust fund would have faced insolvency now.  Instead, because of the cost savings in the Affordable Care Act, including; trimming the billions in government subsidies going to the insurance industry in Medicare Advantage and productivity adjustments to how Medicare pays providers the program gained more than a decade of solvency.

“The net result was that the “insolvency” date was extended by 12 years. Before the law was passed, the trustees said in 2009, the fund was going to be depleted in 2017. “The short-range financial outlook for the HI [hospital insurance] trust fund is substantially more favorable than projected in last year’s annual report, primarily as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” the Medicare trustees said in their 2010 report, saying the fund would last until 2029.”...Washington Post

Fact checkers appropriately gave Speaker Ryan Four Pinnochios for this obvious lie:

“Medicare certainly faces financial stress as the baby-boom generation begins to retire in full force, but it’s important to get the facts straight. It’s bad enough that Ryan, like many politicians, uses imprecise rhetoric such as “broke”; that’s a Two-Pinocchio violation. But the House speaker really went off the rails when he said on national television that Obamacare is making the program go broke. That’s the exact opposite of what happened.”

 

 

As we’ve said here before, repeal of the ACA will have an immediate impact on seniors. While Republicans continue their cynical promise that “reforms” won’t touch current seniors (because they believe America’s “greedy geezers” only care about their own benefits and don’t care about what happens to their children and grandchildren) the truth is, repealing Obamacare hits millions of American seniors immediately and robs the Part A trust fund of more than a decade of solvency:  

“Medicare’s financing challenges would be much greater without the health reform law (the Affordable Care Act, or ACA), which substantially improved the program’s financial outlook.  Repealing the ACA, a course of action promoted by some who simultaneously claim that the program is approaching “bankruptcy,” would worsen Medicare’s financial situation.”... Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“The Affordable Care Act strengthens Medicare's financing by increasing efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse; slowing the rate of increase in payments to providers; improving quality of care and phasing out overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans, plans that are continuing to increase their enrollments each year.  The impact of these provisions has already resulted in extending the solvency of the Medicare Part A Trust Fund by more than a decade and lowering Part B out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries.

In addition to Medicare beneficiaries, the Affordable Care Act is very important to millions of adults ages 50-64 who are uninsured because they do not have access to affordable private insurance.  Many of these individuals are now able to purchase private insurance even if they have pre-existing medical conditions, and costs are more affordable due to the law's limits on age rating and the subsidies available for lower-income beneficiaries.

The number of uninsured “young seniors,” aged 50-64, would increase, leaving them in poorer health by the time they are eligible for Medicare – thereby increasing Medicare’s costs.”...NCPSSM, 2015 ACA Repeal Letter to Congress

And all of this only addresses the clearly false assertion made by Speaker Ryan that Medicare is going “bankrupt” and that Obamacare is the reason.  What is equally important for seniors to understand is what Ryan’s CouponCare plan actually means for them. We’ll address that more completely in a future post but as a reminder:  the Ryan plan will end traditional Medicare, privatizing it, while raising seniors’ costs.  Under CouponCare seniors pay more for less coverage.

The GOP’s voucher plan works this way:

•           Rather than you going to your doctor and Medicare pays the bill, under CouponCare the federal government will give you a voucher each year that you will then use to go out and buy private insurance out in the open market or to pay for Medicare.

•           However, those coupons’ values are based on the cost of Medicare in a particular community or the second lowest private health insurance plan, whichever is cheaper.  So if, you choose to stay in traditional Medicare, and it costs more than virtually the cheapest plan out there, you’ll pay more.  Let’s be really clear, vouchers are designed to shift costs to seniors.  That’s how the government saves money. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 59% of seniors would have to pay higher premiums in order to receive the same Medicare plans they now have, with the average premium increase coming in at $107 per month, they didn’t even look at co-pays and out-of-pocket costs. 

The Congressional Budget Office looked at this in 2011 and said it would double beneficiaries’ costs.

After George Bush won re-election in 2004 and the Republicans controlled Congress, privatizing Social Security was the first order of business.  Here were go again -- but this time your Medicare is the target. The American people don’t support privatizing Medicare; however, it has long been the goal of conservatives who believe seniors should be forced back into a private insurance marketplace which history has proven, over and over again, they simply can’t afford. 

The Trump Conundrum: He Can’t Keep His Promise to Seniors While Also Repealing Obamacare

Donald Trump made a lot of promises to the American people during the Presidential campaign.  For seniors, who supported him overwhelmingly, none was more important that his promise “not to touch” middle-class benefits in Social Security and Medicare.  There’s no doubt his political calculus during this campaign accurately tapped in to a core middle-class value: 

"As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen."...Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times

The problem for President-elect Trump is that the American people fully expect his administration to now keep that campaign promise. Unfortunately, preserving Medicare and Social Security benefits could be among the first of his promises to go. Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have vowed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act will be one of their first acts. For seniors, that means billions in lost Medicare benefits, the return of the Part D prescription drug donut hole and years of solvency taken from Medicare. Millions of seniors will immediately feel the effects of these Medicare cuts which will weaken the program itself.

“The Affordable Care Act strengthens Medicare's financing by increasing efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse; slowing the rate of increase in payments to providers; improving quality of care and phasing out overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans, plans that are continuing to increase their enrollments each year.  The impact of these provisions has already resulted in extending the solvency of the Medicare Part A Trust Fund by more than a decade and lowering Part B out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries.

In addition to Medicare beneficiaries, the Affordable Care Act is very important to millions of adults ages 50-64 who are uninsured because they do not have access to affordable private insurance.  Many of these individuals are now able to purchase private insurance even if they have pre-existing medical conditions, and costs are more affordable due to the law's limits on age rating and the subsidies available for lower-income beneficiaries. 

The number of uninsured “young seniors,” aged 50-64, would increase, leaving them in poorer health by the time they are eligible for Medicare – thereby increasing Medicare’s costs.”...NCPSSM, 2015 ACA Repeal Letter to Congress

In addition to the immediate Medicare cuts that come with the repeal of Obamacare, the Republican Congress has made it clear another top priority is to turn Medicare into CouponCare.  In fact, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPac), has already announced it will include analysis of the GOP’s Medicare privatization plan in its annual report next year. The Republican plans for Medicare, passed in GOP budgets over many years was most recently described in the “A Better Way” campaign led by House Speaker Paul Ryan.  It has already been embraced by Vice President-elect Mike Pence:

“What’s so inspiring to me is how much consistency there is between Donald Trump and the agenda House Republicans have put forward with a ‘Better Way.'”...Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Again, President-elect Trump won’t be able to have it both ways on this issue.  If he wants to preserve seniors’ benefits in Medicare, as promised during the campaign, then adopting a voucher plan designed to shift costs to seniors fundamentally violates that pledge. Privatizing Medicare with a voucher plan, will leave seniors and people with disabilities – some of our most vulnerable Americans – hostage to the whims of private insurance companies and making it even harder for seniors to choose their own doctors. Beneficiaries will pay more money for less coverage because vouchers will not keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance. That is how the program saves money – at seniors’ expense. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office predicted the CouponCare proposal in the GOP’s 2011 budget would cost seniors $20,000 more each year. Over time, this proposal will create a death-spiral ending traditional Medicare. This scheme is, by definition, the antithesis of “not touching” seniors’ benefits.

This conundrum for the Trump administration doesn’t end there. On Social Security, unfortunately, the warning signs for seniors are just as alarming.  Trump advisors and the Republican platform have made it clear that “entitlements” will very likely be on the agenda of a Trump presidency.

“After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. We’ll start taking a hard look at those to start seeing what we can do in a bipartisan way.”

“...I think that whoever [is] the next president is going to have a horrible time in dealing with this, because those entitlements will race to the front of all the economic issues we have in this country.”  Sam Clovis, Trump campaign Chief Policy Advisor, May 2016

"I think you're going to see him do it across the board on entitlements."

"He's not making the case because it's a political suicide to make this case. If you go up and start saying I'm going to attack Social Security, I'm going to attack Medicaid...there goes those votes. So no smart politician is going to step into this milieu."

"At the end of the day, somebody's gotta say you've got to move the retirement age up two years."...Tom Barrack, Trump Economic Advisor, August 2016

The American people have spoken.  They said they wanted change – they got it.  And yet...they’ve also made it clear they don’t support cutting middle-class benefits for millions of American families who depend on Social Security and Medicare. Time will tell whether President Trump will keep the promises candidate Trump has made and what this “change” election will actually mean to workers who’ve earned their Social Security and Medicare benefits and expect them to be protected, as promised. 

Telling the Truth about Social Security's Funding isn't "Nasty" it's Just Reality

OK...we're just 18 days until election day and the final debate has come and gone.  Thank goodness.  

While Social Security and Medicare finally got their 90 seconds of fame last night, as expected, the question was framed exactly how Washington's well-funded fiscal hawks had hoped -- America can't afford "entitlements," (wrong), the programs are the biggest drivers of our debt (nope), are going bankrupt (actually no, they're not) and then the real heart of the question:  How are you going to cut benefits? 

Unfortunately, this approach guaranteed there would be no real conversation about the benefits millions of seniors depend on.  Here is NCPSSM's President/CEO, Max Richtman's reaction: 

“Rather than focusing on the candidate’s plans for improving Social Security and Medicare’s long-term solvency, strengthening benefits and tackling the retirement crisis looming for millions of workers and retirees, last night’s viewers were stuck with the same old crisis calls that ‘entitlements’ are bankrupting America.  No doubt, Washington’s billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby was happy to have some life pumped back into their middle-class killing campaign to cut benefits; however, America’s voters deserved far more from this debate.

Make no mistake about it, the choices between Clinton and Trump couldn’t be starker.  Donald Trump’s Social Security shape-shifting leaves voters with no idea of how he plans to improve solvency and benefit adequacy.  Doing nothing isn’t an option.  Contrary to his insult last night, hearing Hillary Clinton tell the truth about how to strengthen Social Security's funding isn't ‘nasty,’ it's just reality.  As long as America's wealthiest are allowed to avoid paying their share of payroll taxes, Social Security suffers. Period.  While Clinton supports expanding benefits, Trump’s only policy promise last night was to repeal Obamacare. That cuts years from Medicare’s solvency and billions in preventive care, prescription drugs and cost-reducing benefits to seniors.

Most Americans know that our nation faces a retirement crisis. Our economy depends on strong Social Security and Medicare programs and improving benefits is vital to keeping millions from poverty. Too bad voters weren’t allowed to hear any of that debated last night.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

 

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