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From the category archives: privatization

Chatting with Rep. Joe Kennedy, Eloquent Advocate for Working Americans

Anyone who has the opportunity to chat with Rep. Joe Kennedy III about Americans’ health and retirement security should jump at the chance.  This week, we had the honor of interviewing him on Facebook Live from his office on Capitol Hill. 

Now in his third term representing Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional district, Rep. Kennedy is much more than a member of one America’s most famous political families. (He is grandson of Ethel and Robert Kennedy, and grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy).  

He is a thoughtful, persuasive policy expert on health care, and a champion of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  He sits on the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee – which has jurisdiction over federal healthcare programs, mental health, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Interviewed by National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman, Rep. Kennedy affirmed his reputation as an eloquent advocate for America’s current and future retirees.

MEDICAID 

Rep. Kennedy wants to see greater access to Medicaid services, and higher reimbursements for doctors and other providers who currently don’t find it worthwhile to participate. He excoriates Republicans for demonstrating an “extraordinary level of cynicism” in trying to gut Medicaid by repealing Obamacare.  After numerous GOP efforts to undermine Medicaid since President Trump took office, Rep. Kennedy insists the program is more popular than ever.

“The Republicans did something that Democrats have been trying to do for a long time, but couldn’t. They have made Medicaid popular. We’ve actually seen far more Americans understand the integrity, the importance of what Medicaid actually does, and how it forms a backbone of our health care infrastructure across the country.”

TRUMP/GOP TAX LAW

The Congressman is intensely critical of the tax law enacted by Republicans and signed by the President last December, which showers the wealthy and big corporations with tax breaks while blowing a $1.5 trillion hole in the federal debt.  Rep. Kennedy believes the gaping deficit caused by the tax law will invite deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

“This bill is going to bankrupt the United States of America.  With the GOP leadership racking up deficits, those of us who care about the stability of these programs are going to have to do something to make sure that they are there for families when they need them.” 

“[The Republicans’] long-term goal has always been to gut… these programs.  We need to make sure American families understand:  1) How important these programs are; 2) What they actually do.”

SOCIAL SECURITY

The pending retirement of Speaker Paul Ryan notwithstanding, Rep. Kennedy remains concerned that the political right will continue to try to undermine Social Security and Medicare – by privatizing, cutting, and raising eligibility ages – even after Ryan departs the Hill.  He argues that now is the time for awareness and vigilance to protect Americans’ earned benefits.

“No one gets rich off of Social Security. It’s something that you pay into your entire life to make sure that you can afford the basic necessities in retirement.  That’s not something that should be targeted.  That’s something that should be expanded so that we are preserving economic dignity for seniors in the golden years of life.”

“The education part of it is a critical first step:  making sure American families understand just how important these programs are.  They have paid into them during the course of their working lives and they should be able to depend on them as a foundation on which they can build their retirement.”  

Watch Rep. Kennedy’s entire conversation with Max Richtman on Facebook Live here.

Farewell to Paul Ryan and His Insidious "Entitlement Reforms"

Will seniors and their families miss Paul Ryan in the U.S. Congress? Not a chance. His impending retirement lifts a dark cloud that has hung over older Americans – not to mention the poor, sick, and disabled – for nearly two decades. Speaker Ryan has spent his 11 terms on Capitol Hill fighting to enrich the wealthy and powerful, while undermining programs that serve as a lifeline for America’s most vulnerable citizens.

As America’s Privatizer-in-Chief, he spearheaded attempts to turn Medicare into a voucher program and to gamble retirees’ Social Security benefits on the whims of Wall Street.  He passed legislation in the House to cut more than $1 trillion from Medicaid by imposing per capita caps and turning it into a block grant program.  If the Senate had passed it, too, millions of low income Americans would have lost health coverage, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office. At the end of last year, Speaker Ryan muscled-through the Trump/GOP tax giveaway to the rich and profitable corporations, inviting deep cuts to seniors’ earned benefits. “We’re going to have to get back next year [2018] at entitlement reform,” he said last December, “which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.”

Here is a man who has been downright giddy while championing Scrooge-like policies from his powerful perch in Washington. In 2017, he gloated about gutting Medicaid in the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  “This is why I’m so excited about it… We are de-federalizing an entitlement, block-granting it back to the states, and capping its growth rate. That’s never been done before,” he told a conservative radio host. Ryan boasted at a National Review forum that he had been “dreaming” of cutting federal Medicaid funds “since you and I were drinking at a keg” – barely able to contain his glee about stripping health coverage from poor people. 

Paul Ryan was never a traditional fiscal hawk in the mold of old school Republicans.  His fondness for slashing the social safety net while cutting taxes for the rich wasn't just a matter of dollars and cents.  An acolyte of Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy of selfishness,’ Ryan’s disdain for the poor or anyone who relied on federal benefits to survive was deeply ideological. 

"He... justified his agenda in moral terms, speaking frequently about 'makers' (i.e., people who work and earn good incomes) and 'takers' (i.e., lazy people who subsist on government assistance)." - Huffington Post, 4/11/18

At the same time, he was blatantly hypocritical, at least on Social Security. In 2005, he backed President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize the program and risk retirees’ payroll contributions on the stock market.  It’s a position he continued to hold as presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 --- and during his two-and-a-half years as Speaker.  Yet the Speaker himself was a 'taker' when he collected Social Security survivor’s benefits after his father died when Ryan was 16.  He saved up his Social Security checks to pay for college tuition, but somehow doesn’t see the irony in advocating policies that would compromise other Americans’ ability to collect their own earned benefits.

Like other ideologues, Ryan cloaked his attempts to undermine Social Security and Medicare as “preserving” or “saving” them for future generations.  He repeatedly insisted that these programs were going “bankrupt,” when, in fact, there are common sense measures that could keep both trust funds solvent for decades to come – without cutting benefits or raising eligibility ages.  But during Ryan’s Speakership, legislation to do just that never made it the floor, including bills from Rep. John Larson (D-CT) and others that would boost benefits while infusing Social Security with new revenue – or measures to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.  

Ryan tried to divide the generations by vowing that any “reforms” to earned benefits wouldn’t affect current retirees – only younger folks like him, ignoring the fact that stagnant wages make it impossible for today’s workers to save enough for retirement to make up for cuts in Social Security benefits.

Thanks to the vigilance of America’s seniors and their advocates, Ryan’s fight to gut the social safety net has fizzled – so far.  But he remains as Speaker until the end of the 115th Congress and doesn’t wish to see his quest end in failure. 

“Entitlement reform is the one thing, the one other great thing [besides tax cuts] that I spent most of my career working on,” said Ryan at the press conference announcing his retirement. “More work needs to be done [on] entitlements… and I’m going to keep fighting for that.” 

Even if Ryan is unable to advance his “entitlement reform” agenda before he leaves Congress, there are other ideologues on the Hill (especially in the Freedom Caucus) who will be happy to take up the mantle. The best way for the poor, the elderly, the disabled and their families to protect and expand these crucial programs is to vote for candidates who champion Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  We’ll have the chance this November.

 

Rick Scott the Wrong Choice for FL Seniors; NCPSSM Endorses Bill Nelson

 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has enthusiastically endorsed Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) for re-election in November.  The three-term Florida Senator will face Republican Governor Rick Scott, who announced his candidacy today. 

“We need a fighter like Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate. He is a key ally for protecting and expanding programs that seniors in Florida – and across the nation – depend upon for basic health and financial security.  When Senator Nelson talks about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, he speaks from the heart. He is a true fighter for Floridians and older Americans everywhere.” - National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman.

Senator Nelson has been a staunch advocate of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid since taking office in 2001.  His voting record on these issues has consistently earned him a 100% rating from the National Committee.  He fought President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security in 2005, pushed for the closure of the Medicare Part D prescription drug “doughnut hole,” and opposed converting Medicare into a voucher system and raising the program’s eligibility age.  In 2017, he introduced a bill to prevent the federal government from garnishing Social Security benefits to pay off student loans.

Governor Scott’s positions on these issues stand in stark contrast to Senator Nelson’s.  During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Scott advocated privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ health services.  He appeared sympathetic to the idea of privatizing Social Security, as well. Last year, he endorsed the Republican plan to block-grant Medicaid, which could lead to huge funding cuts and reduced eligibility – or loss of coverage –  for 4.3 million low income Floridians.

“Governor Scott's record makes it clear that he is the wrong choice for Florida seniors. He has taken policy positions that would undermine Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which are lifelines for older Americans.” – Max Richtman.

The National Committee endorsed Senator Nelson on behalf of its millions of members and supporters, including more than 108,000 Florida residents.

“You earned the endorsement of the National Committee because you understand and support the critical roles that Social Security and Medicare play in the retirement and health security of our nation’s older citizens and their families.  Our nation needs your continued leadership, vision and determination to fight for working families and older Americans.” – NCPSSM Letter to Senator Nelson, 4/6/18

The National Committee praised the Senator’s “stalwart support” of efforts to ensure the solvency of the Social Security and Medicare Part A trust funds, to provide adequate funding to the Social Security Administration, and to establish a meaningful Medicare prescription program. His unflagging opposition to Social Security and Medicare privatization schemes is a matter of record.

In the endorsement letter, Richtman says National Committee members and supporters want Bill Nelson in the United States Senate to continue protecting and enhancing Social Security and Medicare – “the twin pillars necessary to a good quality of life for Americans of all ages.”

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Read the National Committee’s endorsement letter here.

After Passing Senate Tax Bill, GOP to Target Seniors' Earned Benefits

Maybe it’s no coincidence that the Senate passed its tax bill, vampire-like, in the dead of night.  How very apropos for legislation that could lead to the lifeblood being leached out of programs that the elderly and working class depend on.  Kudos to Senator Bob Corker for being the lone Republican to stand on principle and vote against the bill.  At the same time, Senator Collins, Murkowski, McCain, and other sensible GOP members have disappointed by betraying principles they proclaimed were important during the healthcare battle, but seem to have forgotten during the tax debate.  (Among other things, the bill zeroes out the tax penalty in the Obamacare insurance mandate, which could lead to 13 millions Americans losing coverage and higher premiums for older Americans.)  

In the wake of the bill’s passage early Saturday morning, National Committee President Max Richtman made the following statement:

“Senate Republicans have just given the wealthy and multi-national corporations an early Christmas present by passing the Trump/GOP tax plan, while leaving a lump of coal for seniors and almost everyone else.  The president and his party in Congress are asking the poor, middle class, and elderly to pick up the tab for trillions of dollars in tax breaks that the super-rich and profitable corporations do not need.” - Max Richtman, NCPSSM President, 12/2/17

Senator Susan Collins’ last-minute amendment to retain the current medical expense deduction threshold (up to 10% of adjusted gross income) made the Senate bill a little more tolerable, but not by much.  The House version outright repeals the medical expense deduction – which millions of seniors rely upon to mitigate high out of pocket medical and long-term care costs.  But the biggest poison pill for the elderly in this legislation is the existential threat it poses to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  

“If enacted, the tax bill will trigger an automatic $25 billion cut to Medicare.  It blows a $1 trillion hole in the deficit, inviting deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It adopts the paltry “Chained CPI” inflation index for calculating deductions and tax brackets, setting a dangerous precedent that could spill over into cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM President, 12/2/17

The Senate bill is only slightly less objectionable than the House version, which passed in November.  The two must either be reconciled in a House-Senate conference – or the House may vote on the Senate version as-is.  Republican leadership has promised to have the legislation on President Trump’s desk before the holidays, making this one of the rottenest Christmas presents the Congress has ever given the American people. 

As if to confirm the warnings of seniors’ advocates, Republicans have signaled that their next targets after the tax bill are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid

“High-ranking Republicans are hinting that, after their tax overhaul, the party intends to look at cutting spending on welfare, Social Security, Medicare and other parts of the social safety net. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said recently that he wants Republicans to focus in 2018 on reducing spending on government programs.” – Washington Post

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) admitted as much in an interview with Politico last week, declaring that spending cuts in earned benefits programs will be necessary to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and multinational corporations.

“We need to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.” – Sen. Marco Rubio, 11/29/17

Of course, by “structural changes,” Rubio really means cutting earned benefits and turning Medicare into a voucher program.  He and other GOP leaders have been pushing this agenda for years; the difference is that now they have the power to enact it, common sense, decency, or the well-being of seniors be damned.

Senator Rubio’s pronouncements further expose the phoniness of candidate Trump’s promises “not to touch” Social Security and Medicare. By championing the Trump/GOP tax plan, the President has embraced the inevitable efforts to slash both programs to close the deficit. What’s more, the President’s own 2018 budget blueprint called for more than $60 billion in cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  Notice that we don’t see President Trump contradicting Senator Rubio’s comments to Politico.  We can now safely say that seniors should take Republicans’ word for it:  After giving the wealthy and profitable corporations a multi-trillion-dollar holiday gift, Congress will take an axe to programs Americans have paid into for the entire working lives.

Click here for a detailed analysis of how the Senate GOP tax bill hurts seniors.

National Committee President Warns Senators About GOP Tax & Budget Scheme

Seniors and other vulnerable Americans will be hurt if the just-released GOP tax scheme is enacted.  National Committee president Max Richtman told a hearing room full of Senators - including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-WA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) - that the Republicans' budget and tax legislation must be defeated.

“The Republican budget and tax plans allow [Congress] to slash programs critical to older Americans and people with disabilities – all to pay for massive tax cuts for the very wealthy and profitable corporations.” – Max Richtman, 11/1/17

We analyzed the harm that the GOP proposals would wreak on older Americans in a post last week, entitled GOP Budget Resolution a "Lump of Coal" for Seniors, Middle Class.  Among the more heinous measures, Republicans seek to cut nearly $500 billion from Medicare, $1.3 trillion from Medicaid, more than $600 billion from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and will likely slash billions from other programs that seniors rely on for financial and health security.  

Richtman told the Senators that Medicare beneficiaries “cannot afford to pay more for less coverage” – particularly when half of them have incomes of less than $26,200 a year and spend 25 percent of their Social Security check to pay for Medicare premiums and cost-sharing. “And they cannot afford cuts to Medicare such as those assumed in the House budget – turning Medicare into a voucher program and raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67,” he explained.

What’s more, the tax plan will increase the national debt and compel Republicans to cut seniors’ earned benefits more aggressively in the future – even though Social Security and Medicare Part A are self-financed and do not contribute to federal budget deficits.

 “By increasing the federal budget deficit by at least $1.5 trillion, this measure would leave Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid vulnerable to benefit cuts to make up the difference.” – Max Richtman, 11/1/17

Under the tax bill supported by President Trump and congressional Republicans, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates the top one percent of Americans would receive 80 percent of the tax cuts. For the top one percent, the average annual tax cut would be over $200,000 by 2027. 

The bottom 80 percent of Americans would receive 13 percent of the tax cuts. In fact, 115 million households earning less than $75,000 a year would receive a tax cut of just $190 on average. But ultimately, most Americans would lose much more in program cuts than they would gain from tax cuts. 

Richtman implored Congress to resist this reckless legislation:

“The National Committee urges all Senators and Representatives to oppose legislation to enact these ‘Robin Hood-in-Reverse’ budget and tax proposals and instead work together to protect the retirement and health security commitments made to generations of Americans." - Max Richtman, 11/1/17


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