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From the category archives: affordable care act

affordable care act

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.

 

Hollow Victory for Trump & GOP is a Loss for Seniors, Working Americans

National Committee President and CEO Max Richtman issued the following statement after passage of the Trump/GOP tax plan.

“Congressional Republicans have just pulled off the biggest heist in American history – transferring trillions of dollars of wealth to the rich and profitable corporations at the expense of working and middle class Americans.  By ramming this ill-considered legislation through Congress in a reckless manner, GOP members of Congress put partisanship over people and donors over constituents.  Last-minute revisions designed to woo holdout Senators – including a change benefitting real estate moguls like President Trump – tilted the bill even further toward wealthy elites.  

It is wrong to ask the poor, the working class, and elderly to pay for tax breaks for the rich and powerful, which is exactly what the Trump/GOP tax bill will do.  The tax cuts will explode the federal debt by at least $1.5 trillion, laying the groundwork for an all-out effort to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  House Speaker Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have already promised as much in recent public statements.  Blowing up the debt for tax cuts, then claiming that there’s no choice but to cut benefits for seniors is the height of hypocrisy. As proof of Republicans’ intent, the 2018 GOP budget resolution slashes nearly $500 billion from Medicare and more than $1 trillion from Medicaid. 

The bill’s repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate will result in 13 million Americans losing coverage, and an average $1,500 hike in health insurance premiums for older adults aged 50-64.  Adopting the miserly “Chained CPI” inflation index for calculating tax brackets and deductions could easily creep into the formula for determining Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), which would cost retirees thousands of dollars in the long run.  Unfortunately, the pleas of advocates and everyday Americans demanding that Congress abandon this cynical legislation has fallen on deaf ears. But it’s a hollow victory for the GOP. While the perpetrators of the tax scam may be popping the champagne today, next November they surely will see that voters have declared the party’s over.” 

National Committee President, House Dems Decry GOP Tax Plan’s "Dire" Impact on Seniors

As Republicans remain indifferent – or in denial – about the impact of the Trump/GOP tax scam on older Americans, seniors’ defenders are sounding the alarm.  National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic representatives in front of the U.S. Capitol today to warn of the dangers the tax plan poses to seniors’ retirement and health security. Richtman called the tax bill a “con game that should be called the ‘Washington two-step.’”

“Step one is cutting taxes for top-earning households and profitable corporations. Step two:  use the higher deficits the tax bill will create to cut critical programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM president and CEO, 12/6/17

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) let the cat out of the bag when he acknowledged that Republicans will come after seniors’ earned benefit programs as soon as the tax cut passes.  In fact, the tax bill will trigger an immediate $25 billion cut to Medicare unless Congress quickly waives the PAYGO provision of federal budget law. (Both Medicare and Medicaid – which helps seniors afford long-term care – are targeted for deep cuts in the GOP budget plan.) The tax scam also hurts older Americans by zeroing out the Obamacare coverage mandate penalty (which could result in higher premiums for 50-64 year-olds).  It also imposes the paltry “Chained CPI” as an inflation index for taxes, which could later bleed over into Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and shrink badly needed increases in retirees’ checks. 

Speaking on this chilly December afternoon in the nation’s capital, Leader Pelosi said, “It’s a cold day for seniors because of this GOP tax scam. It is an assault on the older Americans who built this country.  Seniors are among the biggest losers in this legislation.”

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) called the tax bill “the first step in the Republican plan to undermine the financial and health security of older Americans.”

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) observed that the threat to seniors from the GOP tax legislation “keeps getting worse and worse” and said the bill would have “cruel and dire” consequences.  She slammed the House bill’s repeal of the medical expense deduction, which millions of seniors use to mitigate high out-of-pocket medical and long-term care costs.

Republican members of a House-Senate conference committee are currently meeting behind closed doors to work out the differences between each chamber’s version of the tax bill.  Leadership hopes to pass a final bill and send it to President Trump for signature before Christmas – perhaps the worst holiday gift Congress could possibly give to the American people.  Seniors and their advocates are right to be concerned about this legislation, which is deeply unpopular with the public (only 29% of Americans support it in the most recent polling).  But after years of dreaming about slashing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, Republicans are now in a position to carry out their craven plans - without apparent regard for public opinion, fairness, or decency. 

Outrage Crucial as Trump-GOP Tax Scam Gets Dangerously Close to Passing the Senate

When President Trump and Congressional Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare earlier this year, the gross unfairness of taking healthcare away from 20-30 million Americans sparked outrage across the country.  Members of Congress got an angry earful from constituents every time they went back home.  Speaker Paul Ryan’s office got so many calls they had to shut the phone lines down.  Despite multiple attempts to kill the Affordable Care Act, Republicans repeatedly failed under a crush of public pressure.  Senators of conscience, including Sens. McCain, Murkowski, and Collins put principle over party and stood in opposition when it counted.  That is precisely the kind of outrage we need right now as the Trump/GOP tax scam rolls toward passage.

In the face of overwhelming evidence that the Republican plan is a shamelessly giveaway to the wealthy and big corporations, the public must continue to apply as much pressure as possible on elected representatives. (The Senate GOP bill even includes a provision repealing Obamacare’s mandate, and the opposition must rise with equal fervor.)  National Committee president Max Richtman sent a letter to the Senate yesterday urging that the bill be defeated.

Now is the time to seize on the opportunity to stop the Trump/GOP tax juggernaut before it wreaks permanent havoc on the lives of the poor, the sick, the working class, and the elderly. Yesterday the Senate Finance Committee advanced the bill to the floor on a 12-11 party-line vote. A handful of GOP Senators still oppose the plan, but the number is dwindling by the day and no doubt most of them will cave in the end. Meanwhile, in an effort to woo holdouts, Senate tax writers are making the bill even more generous to the wealthy.  

“[A] change demanded by… two unhappy senators — Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Steve Daines of Montana — would further lower the tax bills of people like President Trump who earn most of their income through limited liability companies, partnerships and other ‘pass through’ businesses that do not withhold taxes on the money passed along to their owners.” – New York Times, 11/28/17

One could rightly ask, where is the outrage on the part of deficit hawks and so-called GOP moderates? What does it even mean to be a moderate who could vote for such a regressive piece of legislation?  Even Maine Senator Susan Collins is negotiating with tax writers instead of remaining firm in opposition.  Hopes that the requisite three GOP Senators will retain the courage to buck this bill are fading fast.

We need to look past the obvious distractions of Trump’s latest tweets and petty feuds and keep our eye on the ball.  The Trump/GOP tax scam is being served up for the benefit of billionaires and corporate titans in the party’s donor base.  Republicans have admitted as much:  big donations will dry up if they don’t get this done.

Months of careful and credible analysis has laid bare the truth about who will pay the price for this irresponsible legislation.  While the 1% get trillions in tax relief, many working class Americans will see their taxes go up in the next ten years:

Almost every independent evaluation of the House and Senate plans has found a $1 trillion tax cut for corporations and changes to the individual tax code that would benefit wealthier Americans while leading to millions of middle-class and lower-income people paying higher taxes than they do now. – Dylan Scott, Vox
Those earning under $10,000 would see their taxes rise by a cumulative $100 million; those earning between $10,000 and $20,000 would see taxes rise by $638 million; those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 would see taxes rise by almost $1.2 billion; and those earning between $30,000 and $40,000 would see taxes rise by $653 billion. – Politifact.

According to Politifact, some 40 million Americans would pay higher taxes in 2027 than they would today. Older Americans would be hit particularly hard.  Not only might their taxes go up if they are not fortunate enough to inhabit the upper income echelons, but the tax legislation would automatically trigger $25 billion in immediate cuts to Medicare.  The projected $1.5 trillion the tax cuts would add to the national debt would no doubt spur Republicans to pursue even deeper cuts to seniors’ earned benefits, leading to benefit cuts and higher eligibility ages for Medicare and Social Security.  Melissa Favreault of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center warns:

Unless the tax cuts spur immense economic growth, which many prominent economists doubt based on decades of evidence, these cuts will harm future workers and Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries. – Melissa Favreault, Tax Policy Center

Not to mention that the Trump/GOP budget plan calls for over a trillion dollars in cuts to Medicaid, which millions of seniors rely on for long-term care.  Is it fair to punish current and future generations of seniors so the rich and multinational corporations can pocket trillions they don’t even need? 

Republican members of Congress continue to shill for the plan, perpetuating the lie that it provides significant tax relief for the middle class (it clearly doesn’t) or that it will grow the economy and create jobs (a myth disproven by history time and again).  The mainstream media focuses largely on the “horse race” aspect of the tax debate – who’s up, who’s down, how badly President Trump and the GOP need a “win.” Meanwhile, we know who loses, including large swaths of President Trump’s own base in the working class, which is perhaps the most egregious betrayal of all.  As Dylan Scott points out in Vox, candidate Trump promised to bring a new kind of populism to Washington.  “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” said the President at his inaugural.  

“Trump promised that the big, beautiful tax cut Republicans would pass would be a tax cut for the middle class. He went so far as to claim that he himself, allegedly worth $10 billion, would not benefit. He pledged that he wouldn’t be swayed by the Washington lobbying class.” – Dylan Scott, Vox

Those millions of working class Americans seem to have been all but forgotten now.  The President and the Republicans in Congress are clearly hoping that most voters are, in fact, distracted or looking the other way as they pull off one of the biggest transfers of wealth in U.S. history.  But we must not look the other way, or soon it will be too late.

 

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