From the category archives: entitlement reform
by Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
As a seniors’ advocate who’s worked on aging policy issues for decades, one of the most common questions I hear during campaign season is, “Why do America’s seniors vote against their own economic self-interests?” or more specifically, “Why have so many older (65+) Americans shifted to the Republican Party, even as it supports cutting the Social Security and Medicare benefits they depend on?” There is no single answer to this political quandary because there is far more at work in our fractured, divisive and polarized political system than simply age demographics. However, there’s no denying we could see American seniors vote against their own self-interests, once again in 2016, unless there’s a major awakening to what that vote means for them economically.
It’s important to start with some historical context. Democratic Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, created Social Security and Medicare and -- for decades -- the party’s strong support among seniors and the middle-class reflected that reality. However, that was then. The erosion of senior support for Democratic candidates has been steady. In 1993, Democrats had a 12 point advantage over Republicans among senior voters. Today, that advantage is gone and is instead a deficit.
While the GOP claims this shift proves cutting earned benefits is no longer the “third rail” of American politics, the increasingly populist tone of this 2016 Presidential campaign combined with the nomination of a GOP Presidential candidate who’s promised no cuts certainly belies that assertion. In truth what’s happened in recent years is that conservatives have successfully co-opted the Social Security and Medicare political debate by promising Americans they’ll “preserve” and “strengthen” these vital programs on the campaign trail, while actually proposing benefit cuts, Social Security private accounts, or coupon care for seniors in Medicare only after they’re elected. This Orwellian doublespeak isn’t accidental but a well-crafted (and apparently effective) messaging strategy. Donald Trump has now taken that messaging a step further by promising he’ll leave Social Security and Medicare alone, even as he surrounds himself with staff and a Vice Presidential running mate with very different plans. Trump himself supported the privatization of Social Security for more than a decade, calling it a “Ponzi scheme,” but by 2013 he’d done the political calculus and warned conservatives they simply couldn’t win elections that way:
“ ‘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,’ Mr. Trump said, adding that polls show that tea partyers are among those who don't want their entitlements changed." Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times
“You know the Republicans also have to get elected, you do know that. And if you watch Bernie, and if you watch Hillary, they don't only want to not cut, they want to increase Social Security.” Donald Trump, Morning Joe, February 2016
The American people, of all ages and political parties understand we don’t have to destroy Social Security and Medicare to “save” them. The latest survey by the National Academy of Social Insurance shows large majorities of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, agree on ways to strengthen Social Security, without cutting benefits. 74 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats agree that “it is critical to preserve Social Security even if it means increasing Social Security taxes paid by working Americans.” Simply put, the American people are willing to pay more for Social Security. They understand the growing impact these benefits have on individual lives and on our larger economy. They know first-hand what America’s retirement crisis looks and feels like.
Retirement USA reports the gap between what Americans need to retire and what they actually have is $7.7 trillion. In fact, about half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings and a third of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement. Unfortunately, the median retirement account balance is a puny $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households. Vanguard reports that 401K balances, for those who do have them, fell a median of 11% last year. Social Security remains the only stable retirement income for many Americans.
Social Security is also a stabilizing force for the economy. A new report from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation shows that, in 2014 alone, Social Security delivered a $1.6 trillion fiscal boost nationwide as benefits were spent and cycled through the economy. Unfortunately, Social Security’s economic contributions to communities, counties, and states continue to be misunderstood and often ignored in Washington’s fiscal debates. This election could change that.
The party that created Social Security and Medicare has an opportunity to regain lost ground by drawing a clear line in the sand in defense of the core American values of hard work, fairness and compassion embodied in our nation’s most successful programs – Social Security and Medicare. The Democrat’s 2016 platform is the strongest statement on strengthening Social Security seen in decades. By pledging to fight efforts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, supporting expansion of the program, lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula for seniors, the Democrats have tackled head-on the critical challenges facing millions of average Americans. Conversely, the Republican 2016 platform says benefit cuts must be considered, raising revenue rejected and privatization (the “power of the markets”) preferred. It’s no wonder Donald Trump has been running noticeably silent on Social Security and Medicare this summer, given the Republican Party’s clear rejection of his Social Security and Medicare campaign promises.
Senior turnout will play a huge role in November’s elections which means Democrats must continue to say what they mean, and mean what they say in a full-throated defense against attacks to America’s most effective health and retirement security programs. Senior voters must also remain vigilant and demand more from candidates than empty promises and political double-speak, otherwise they may cast yet another vote against their own economic self-interests and end up with the biggest case of buyers’ remorse in American political history.
The Democratic Platform released today clearly shows that the differences between how the Democratic and Republican parties will approach the future of Social Security couldn’t be starker. The GOP platform promises to consider all benefit cut options, refuses to lift the payroll tax cap and suggests sending Americans’ earned benefits to Wall Street through privatization. The Democratic Party platform, on the other hand, offers the strongest statement on strengthening Social Security seen in decades. By pledging to fight efforts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, supporting expansion of the program, lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula for seniors, the Democrats have tackled head-on the critical challenges facing millions of average Americans.
“For too long, many in Washington have ignored the retirement crisis facing Americans nationwide. The Democratic Party’s platform acknowledges what average Americans and their families understand first-hand – Social Security is an economic lifeline to millions which should be improved. Boosting Social Security’s benefits to provide economic security while also extending the program’s solvency can be done at the same time. The Democrats get that.
The National Committee proudly worked closely with the Democratic Platform Committee and DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to ensure efforts to improve the current cost of living allowance (COLA) formula are investigated. The current formula isn’t measuring seniors’ expenses properly and they’ve seen no increase for too many years, while their expenses (especially health costs) continue to grow. We need a COLA for the elderly and are happy to see Democrats address that reality in this 2016 platform.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO and Democratic Platform Committee Member
It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years -- providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.
A new National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation report also released today, called Social Security Spotlight, illustrates very clearly the huge economic impact Social Security benefits have in every state and county throughout the nation. This research can be especially helpful during the 2016 election cycle for voters, journalists, policy makers and campaign staff as the future of Social Security is debated.
GOP Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has chosen one of Congress’ most aggressive Social Security privatization supporters to serve as his Vice President. Indiana Governor and former Congressman, Mike Pence’s record on issues important to seniors, particularly cutting benefits to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid couldn’t be worse:
“By choosing Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has sent a very clear message to America’s seniors that their priorities will hold little weight in a Trump administration. During his decade-plus tenure in the U.S. Congress, Mike Pence consistently voted in favor of legislative efforts to cut benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He has a long history of blaming earned benefit programs for America’s economic woes and supporting middle-class benefit cuts to protect tax cuts for the wealthy. Few members of Congress have an anti-seniors voting record as consistently strong as Mike Pence.
Mike Pence was one of Congress’ biggest proponents of privatization. He supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, reducing the COLA, means-testing and turning Medicare into “CouponCare.” As he told CNN, ‘I’m an all of the above guy. I think we need to look at everything that’s on the menu,’ and the record shows he has done just that by supporting every form of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cut proposed in the past decade.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare scored Mike Pence at 0% on issues important to seniors during the 2011-2012 Congress since he voted for multiple pieces of legislation that would cut benefits and programs that protect senior’s health and financial security.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
As leader of the Republican Study Committee, the House’s far-right wing caucus, during the Bush administration, Pence doubled-down on President George Bush’s failed privatization efforts by calling for an even larger private accounts scheme to be implemented sooner, putting Americans at even greater fiscal risk than the President’s doomed plan. The Washington Times reported in 2005:
“The Bush plan allows workers to divert 4 percent of their wages into investment accounts, and to choose from a set of investment strategies. But the conservatives are leaning more toward a plan sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, which would allow diversion of 6 percent of wages.
‘Conservatives want to see personal retirement accounts that have immediate relevance to younger Americans, that they can see the value, and that will require that they be big and that they be implemented in the final bill without delay,’ said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and chairman of the 100-member Republican Study Committee (RSC).”
Incredibly, even though Pence was among Congress’ most vocal fiscal hawks, he was willing to use deficit spending to pay for their Social Security privatization scheme but not to improve Social Security’s long-term funding or protect seniors’ benefits:
“Mr. Pence said conservatives would be willing to accept borrowing money to pay for the transition costs, but “so long as we can achieve the fundamental reform of personal Social Security account for retirement.” He said the RSC will convey those principles to House Republican leaders early next week, and said they believe they have muscle to back up those principles.”
Beyond privatization, Pence’s comments make it clear there isn’t a Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefit cut he won’t embrace:
“I think everything has to be on the table...I think it’s absolutely imperative, whether it’s Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.”
“With regard to entitlements we’re going to have to take some deep cuts in domestic spending.” CNN, 2010
“I was tea party before it was cool.” Indianapolis Monthly, 2011
On health issues, Pence’s record is just as anti-senior as his Social Security stance. He aggressively opposed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and fought for its repeal, which would worsen Medicare’s solvency and take away billions in added benefits and cost savings for seniors. He voted against the creation of a prescription drug benefit (Part D) in Medicare, opposes allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, he supported legislation that would deny non-emergency treatment for lack of a Medicare co-pay, and most importantly supports the GOP/Ryan budget which would destroy Medicare in favor of “Couponcare,” giving seniors a voucher to take shopping for insurance rather than protecting traditional Medicare’s guaranteed coverage.
In spite of his leadership in Congress against the ACA, as Governor he reluctantly acknowledged the healthcare needs of Indiana citizens and adopted Medicaid expansion, yet not without putting the GOP political spin on it. As Politico reported, Pence incredibly claims the expansion was actually an elimination of Medicaid.
“In fact, a summary of the proposal describes it as a move to “eliminate traditional Medicaid” for non-disabled Hoosiers.
And by adding a requirement that Indiana residents must pay a premium, Pence promised to preserve citizens’ dignity:
“So the Indiana plan will charge small premiums—up to 2 percent of an individual's income—which will make only a tiny impact on the state's balance sheets, but will send a clear message to those layabouts; Pence talked about giving people the "dignity to pay for their own health insurance." (I'm sure that Pence declines to take a government handout in the form of the mortgage interest deduction, because that would undermine his dignity.)...American Prospect
While Donald Trump has promised on the campaign trail that he won’t cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, he continues to surround himself with advisors and now a running-mate with polar opposite intentions. At the same time, his promise to “not touch” benefits has been noticeably absent in recent campaign appearances. In fact, his most recent comments to an AARP survey take a very different tone:
“As our demography changes, a prudent administration would begin to examine what changes might be necessary for future generations.”...Donald Trump, AARP, June 27, 2016
That’s why NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, urges seniors and their families to beware of candidates who make promises on the campaign trail they have no intention of keeping once they get your vote:
"They say actions speak louder than words – and there’s no doubt about it -- Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential running mate speaks volumes to American seniors.”
Each day 10 thousand Americans become eligible for Medicare. The aging of the baby boom generation certainly isn’t a surprise to anyone and yet, instead of boosting programs to serve this increased need, Republican Congressional leaders continue to slash and now eliminate programs designed to help millions of aging Americans and their families.
The latest target is one of the nation’s most effective consumer resources for seniors, the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).
“The SHIP network provides critical information upon which people with Medicare rely to make informed decisions about their coverage options and enrollment decisions,” says Judith A. Stein, Executive Director, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc. “The SHIPs are critical to providing assistance with these increasingly complicated choices. People with Medicare and their families from all over the country depend on SHIPs as the key source of unbiased guidance.”
Incredibly, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a Fiscal Year 2017 budget appropriations bill that completely eliminates the $52.1 million in funding for SHIP.
“Senate appropriators have turned their backs on a growing number of people who will need SHIP services to navigate the complexities of Medicare coverage by proposing to eliminate program funding. This kind of penny-wise, pound-foolish lawmaking will threaten the economic security of millions of Medicare beneficiaries and their families.”…Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
“Understanding the complexities and decisions required for Medicare is an overwhelming, isolating experience for seniors, people with disabilities, and caregivers who don’t know where to get help. For millions of Americans, their only option for that help is their SHIP. If SHIPs disappear, there is no replacement for the critical services they provide. The loss of SHIPs threatens the economic security and the health of all current Medicare beneficiaries and the thousands who become eligible every day.”…James Firman, President and CEO of the NCOA
"Eliminating SHIPs would leave millions of older Americans, people with disabilities, and families who need help comparing coverage options, appealing denials, applying for financial assistance, and navigating an evolving and increasingly complex program stranded—with nowhere to turn. With 10,000 Baby Boomers aging into Medicare each day, it is imperative that the U.S. House of Representatives reject this unprecedented, nonsensical cut."…Joe Baker, President of the Medicare Rights Center
In case you have any doubt about the need for SHIP services consider this: today’s Medicare beneficiary must choose among more than 20 prescription drug plans, an average of 19 Medicare Advantage plans, as well as various Medigap supplemental insurance policies—all with different premiums, cost sharing, provider networks, and coverage rules. SHIPs also help beneficiaries resolve fraud and abuse issues, billing problems, appeals, and enrollment in low-income health assistance programs. In 2015, SHIPs provided one-on-one assistance to more than seven million individuals and in the past decade, the number of beneficiaries receiving personalized counseling from SHIPs has tripled.
Not a day goes by that we don’t hear horror stories of seniors and their families who face severe economic hardship and even bankruptcy because of a bad choice made in their healthcare options. That’s exactly why SHIP is so vitally important.
We’re proud to join a coalition of aging organizations including; The Center for Medicare Advocacy, Medicare Rights Center, and National Council on Aging (NCOA) to fight for a reversal of this outrageous Senate move to eliminate seniors’ access to desperately needed SHIP services.
We urge you to call your Senators and Representative and tell them: Americans Need SHIP.
As Hillary Clinton declared victory after winning four of the six primaries last night, the Democratic ticket for President solidified. While Donald Trump has been in that position for a while now, his campaign has now entered rough political waters...again.
And so it will likely go until November...
Unfortunately, what’s lost as the media and political punditry focus on the horserace, who’s stuck their foot in it today and the inevitable mud-slinging that Trump has already promised to begin on Monday, are the important policy differences between candidates. There are plenty of them, especially on economic issues impacting average Americans.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign ensured that issues of income inequality, economic security and fairness, social justice and boosting Social Security remained top of the political agenda. He vowed to continue that effort:
“Our campaign from day one has understood some very basic points and that is first, we will not allow right-wing Republicans to control our government. And that is especially true with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate. The American people, in my view, will never support a candidate whose major theme is bigotry, who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims and women, and African-Americans.
But we understand that our mission is more than just defeating Trump; it is transforming our country. The vast — the vast majority of the American people know that it is not acceptable that the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent. We are going to change that. And when millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, we will not allow 57 percent of all new income to go to the top 1 percent...
We will not allow Donald Trump to become President of the United States."
When it comes to Social Security and Medicare, the differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are stark. Clinton supports expanding benefits, while Trump promises he won’t cut Social Security. That position has given the GOP party establishment heartburn but Trump has repeatedly acknowledged the GOP can’t win by promising benefit cuts and so he’s not:
"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," Mr. Trump said, adding that polls show that tea partyers are among those who don't want their entitlements changed." Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times
“You know the Republicans also have to get elected, you do know that. And if you watch Bernie, and if you watch Hillary, they don't only want to not cut, they want to increase Social Security.” Donald Trump, Morning Joe, February 2016
And yet his policy staff says the Trump administration is open to “entitlement changes.”
“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
You can read more about the Trump campaign positions here, here and here.
Hillary Clinton has a long history of fighting the privatization of Social Security and Medicare, something Donald Trump supported in his first Presidential campaign. These days, that position alone is not enough but Clinton has also articulated a real plan to boost benefits, provide caregiving credits, lift the payroll tax cap and improve spousal benefits. She also opposes Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act which means seniors in Medicare would lose billions in drug savings, well-care visits, lower premiums and improved care.
There will be many more months to draw clear comparisons between these candidates’ positions on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the Presidential campaign moves to the conventions and their platform debates.
The National Committee’s SeniorVote 2016 will keep you updated and candidates’ accountable on their plans for programs which touch the lives of virtually every American family.You can sign up for email alerts to be sure the latest news comes straight to your mailbox.
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