From the category archives: Budget
In just over a week federal funding runs out for the nation’s highways, bridges and roads. The House has passed a temporary fix but the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, wants to take an entirely different approach.
What does this have to do with Social Security or Medicare? The answer should be “nothing” but thanks to legislation now being debated in the Senate, the real answer is “everything.” Once again, GOP leaders want to use Social Security and/or Medicare benefits to pay for something entirely unrelated to the income and health security of millions of Americans.
NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, has written to the Senate urging Members to reject efforts to use Social Security benefits to pay for the Transportation bill:
“...there are at least two Social Security policy changes that are currently being considered as “offsets” for legislation that would extend highway transportation funding. One of these is a measure barring payment of Social Security benefits for seniors with outstanding warrants for their arrest. Almost none of the seniors who would be affected by this provision are actual fugitives from justice and most of the warrants in question are many years old and involve minor infractions. Moreover, the Social Security Administration attempted to administer a similar provision for a number of years, with catastrophic effect for many vulnerable elderly seniors, employing procedures that did not withstand judicial scrutiny. Reenacting this requirement should be something the Congress does only after careful analysis and with ample opportunity for public discussion.
The second provision relates to the concurrent receipt of both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and unemployment compensation. Given the importance that all policy makers ascribe to encouraging disabled Americans to return to the workforce, I am perplexed by the desire on the part of some in the Congress to strip working SSDI beneficiaries of their eligibility to receive unemployment compensation when, through no fault of their own, they lose a job. Concurrent eligibility, which derives directly from a disabled person’s efforts to return to work, is a work incentive. That incentive should be altered only after the committees of jurisdiction have carefully considered all of the ramifications associated with such a change and, again, after ample opportunity for public comment.”
This is the third time in less than a year that Congress has attempted to use Social Security and/or Medicare as an ATM to pay for a completely unrelated priority. Last year Congress voted to extend the Medicare sequester cuts into 2024 to cover a reversal of cost-of-living cuts to veterans' pension benefits. This summer Medicare was cut again to help pay for the Trade bill. Now it appears, rather than consider tax reform for huge corporate tax dodgers sending billions of profits oversee to avoid paying taxes, GOP leaders in the Senate prefer cutting benefits to seniors, people with disabilities and their families who depend on Social Security.
The Senate is expected to vote on the highway funding bill and these proposed Social Security benefit cuts this week. While we all want good highways, Congress should not pay for them by cutting Social Security benefits for seniors, people with disabilities and their families. Social Security is our money – not the government’s. We’ve worked hard to earn our benefits.
Call our Legislative Hotline ASAP and we’ll connect you to your Senators. Tell them to oppose cutting Social Security to pay for the Transportation bill.
A new Kaiser Foundation poll confirms (again) that the vast majority of Americans, of all political stripes, support Medicare and Medicaid and don’t want Washington to replace Medicare with CouponCare. Kaiser reports:
“A strong majority (70%) say that Medicare should continue to ensure all seniors get the same defined set of benefits. Far fewer (26%) say that the program should be changed to instead guarantee each senior a fixed contribution to the cost of their health insurance – a system known as premium support that has been proposed to address Medicare’s long-term financing challenges.
By at least two-to-one margins, majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents favor keeping Medicare as is rather than changing to a premium support program. Adults under 65 years old are somewhat more likely than seniors to favor premium support (28% compared to 18%), though large majorities in all age groups prefer Medicare’s current structure.”
In spite of the American people’s strong support of Medicare, Republicans in Congress continue their campaign to end traditional Medicare and replace it with a voucher program that gives seniors a coupon they then have to use to try and buy their own health coverage. This plan would create a death spiral for traditional Medicare, make it harder for seniors to choose their own doctors while passing more costs to Americans so they’ll pay more for less coverage. The Congressional Budget Office has predicted the Ryan CouponCare Plan could cost seniors $20,000 more each year.
The Kaiser poll also found that Americans support reforms designed to improve Medicare’s long-term financial picture. The most popular reform; however, has consistently been ignored by this Republican controlled Congress.
“By far the most popular change to Medicare is allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies. Overall, 87% of the public supports such an option, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents and across generations.
Smaller majorities favor increasing Medicare premiums for wealthier seniors (58%), which already occurs and was expanded earlier this year as part of Medicare’s physician payment reforms; and reducing payments to Medicare Advantage plans (51%). Fewer support raising Medicare’s age of eligibility from 65 to 67 (39%), raising premiums for all Medicare beneficiaries (31%), or increasing cost-sharing for future Medicare beneficiaries (24%).”
The vast majority of those polled (89%) want Medicare’s funding expanded or at least maintained. Which is in stark contrast to ongoing efforts in Congress to use Medicare as an ATM by cutting the program to pay for other items such as the Trade Agreement.
As we celebrate Medicare and Medicaid’s 50th Anniversary on July 30th it’s important we remain vigilant in support of these vital programs. That means constantly reminding Congress Medicare and Medicaid should be strengthened not cut.
Congress is proposing a freeze on funding for the already strapped Social Security Administration at last year’s levels. The SSA administrative budget has already fallen by over 10 percent since 2010 after adjusting for inflation. The GOP’s 2016 SSA Appropriation ignores inflation and the fact that ten thousand Americans are turning 65 each day.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities details what these budget cuts mean for a program that touches the lives of virtually every American family:
Since 2010, SSA has lost over 6,000 employees, nearly 10 percent of its staff. As a result, SSA's service is suffering:
- Reduced field office hours.
- Increased wait times for appointments.
- Longer hold times.
- Cutbacks in Social Security Statements.
- Backlogged Disability Insurance claims.
- Delays in processing earnings reports.
Logically, you’re probably wondering how is an agency serving a growing number of Americans (and it’s not like the baby boomer generation is a surprise) be expected to do its job with no resources? The answer lies in the long-held “starve the beast” and “drown-the-government” conservative strategy still being practiced, decades later, by GOP leaders in Congress.
“I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Grover Norquist
Social Security is well-managed with small administrative costs. However, underfunding popular programs that conservatives can’t outright abolish or dismantle (if they hope to keep their seats in Congress, anyway) continues to be used as a political strategy to weaken Social Security. This underfunding has now been going on long enough that Social Security services provided to average Americans have been cut to the bone.
Who ultimately pays the price for this political strategy? Average American families who have contributed their entire working lives to Social Security and have a reasonable expectation that the SSA would be funded by Congress to successfully fulfill its mission...as it has done for 80 years.
Seniors advocates with the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Committee joined Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in a press event today to express their opposition to legislation that would cut $700 million from Medicare to pay for a slice of the Trade Deal now being debated in Congress.
“Medicare is not the piggy bank for other programs. We’ve already seen what sequester has meant for the program. We’ve written to Congress because there’s just not enough awareness on this issue. Across the board cuts affects the integrity of the Medicare program.” Rich Fiesta, Alliance for Retired Americans Executive Director
“The use of Medicare cuts, 700 million dollars of Medicare cuts, to finance a program totally unrelated to Medicare sets a terrible precedent. It’s not death by a thousand cuts but that’s where we seem to be headed. I think it’s interesting that many of the same members of Congress who condemned Obamacare and decried savings in the Medicare program as cuts--savings which were, by the way, plowed right back into the program to provide preventive screenings, close the Part D donut hole and extend the program’s solvency--are now some of the same legislators who want to really cut money from Medicare to pay for an unrelated program.” Max Richtman, National Committee President/CEO
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Task Force on Seniors are leading the charge against this proposal:
“10,000 people a day turn 65. We should be investing and expanding Medicare not stealing from it. People have paid into this program and expect it to be there...not to use that to fund anytime we need money to pay for another program...Medicare is not the ATM for everything Congress wants to pay for. Cutting this social insurance program isn’t the direction we should be going in. Medicare should not be the pay-for for trade deal. The best way to help workers is to stop trade deals that take their jobs...not cut Medicare to fund fixes.” Rep. Jan Shakowsky (D-IL)
“There’s going to be untold riches earned if TPP is enacted into law. There’s no doubt about that. Great profits will be derived for large international corporations...it seems only logical that the multinationals should fund the costs of the Trade Adjustment Assistance. I can not abide this. We’ll fight it with everything we have.” Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Reps. Ellison and Schakowsky say many of their colleagues don’t even realize this Medicare cut was slipped into the Trade Assistance provision. They’re raising the alarm but hope seniors and their families will also call and email their Members of Congress now since the debate is underway.
You can do that easily from our Leg Action Center.
Chances are if you’re a regular reader of this blog, the last issue you’d expect to see us write about is the hotly-debated and barely understood TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade deal. After all, keeping up with and explaining policy issues impacting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is complicated enough, so yes, we really didn’t plan on wading too deep into the trade deal. (Although you can read NCPSSM’s take on TPP and drug prices here.)
Unfortunately, that changed this week with news that Congress (with the White House running silent) intends to cut $700 million from the Medicare program to pay for a slice of the trade package. We talked to Michael Hiltzik the Los Angeles Times about this back-door attack on Medicare:
“The plan on Capitol Hill is to move the Trade Assistance Program expansion in tandem with fast-track approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, possibly as early as this week. We explained earlier the dangers of the fast-track approval of this immense and largely secret trade deal. But the linkage with the assistance program adds a new layer of political connivance: Congressional Democrats demanded the expansion of the Trade Assistance Program, Congressional Republicans apparently found the money in Medicare, and the Obama White House, which should be howling in protest, has remained silent.
Medicare advocates have taken up the slack by raising the alarm. "To take this cut and apply it to something completely unrelated sets a terrible precedent," Max Richtman, head of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, told me.
The Medicare raid was so stealthy that critics in Congress, including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are just now gearing up to oppose it. "It was sort of buried" in the bill, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the caucus co-chair, told me Monday.”
Funding the Trade Assistance Program is necessary to help Americans workers expected to lose their jobs because of this trade deal receive job training and assistance. However, telling American workers they have to trade away health care benefits in their retirement in order to get job training when they lose their job now is incredibly mercenary, even by Washington standards.
This isn’t the first time Medicare has been Congress’ piggy bank. This move follows last year’s vote to extend the Medicare sequester cuts into 2024 to cover a reversal of cost-of-living cuts to veterans' pension benefits. Shifting Medicare funds to other programs seems to be Congress’ new go-to budget approach. That’s pretty ironic given that the GOP has spent millions of campaign dollars claiming Obamacare cut Medicare benefits (which is didn’t):
“This is different from the $700-billion cost reduction in Medicare enacted via the Affordable Care Act. That includes efforts to make the program more efficient by improving the incentives governing how doctors and hospitals deliver care to their patients, along with reductions in payments to Medicare Advantage plans. Richtman points out that much of this amounts to a reallocation within Medicare -- "it's piled back into the program by paying for improvements in preventive care, closing the 'doughnut' hole in Medicare Part D (the prescription drug benefit)" and other measures. In the broadest sense, the cost reductions in Medicare are netted against other healthcare costs within the Affordable Care Act.
By contrast, the new proposal would take $700 million out of Medicare, period. Nothing in the TAA will help Medicare function better, augment its services to members, or cover healthcare costs. Slicing into physician and hospital reimbursements may have the opposite effect, by reducing members' access to care. "I'd characterize this as money stolen from Medicare," Richtman says.”
We recommend you read Michael Hiltzik’s entire story at the Los Angeles Times
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