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  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.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has enthusiastically endorsedSenator 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.”
Read the National Committee’s endorsement letter here.
The Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) under consideration in the U.S. House is a colossally dangerous idea. The BBA would mandate that government expenditures not exceed revenues in any given year. Among other disastrous effects, it would result in devastating cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The House Republican leadership intends to schedule a vote on the amendment to the U.S. Constitution sometime this Spring – perhaps as early as mid-April. All current and future retirees should oppose it.
In order to balance the budget every year, Congress would be forced to make draconian cuts to Medicare Part B, Medicaid and other programs that seniors depend upon. Medicare and Medicaid cannot sustain cuts (other than common sense cost-saving measures) without hurting beneficiaries. Period. At a time when seniors’ out of pocket health care costs are rising, the BBA puts the health and financial security of Medicare’s 58.5 million beneficiaries and Medicaid’s 72.3 million at risk.
Equally serious is the BBA’s potential impact on Social Security. Under the BBA, if federal expenditures exceed revenues, the government would be forbidden from paying benefits from the Social Security trust fund reserves – even though the trust fund is self-financed by workers’ payroll contributions and unrelated to general revenues. Ditto for reserves in the Medicare Part A trust fund. Benefits would then have to be slashed in order to keep the federal budget in balance, something seniors on fixed incomes could ill afford.
Under the BBA, it would also be difficult to reverse tax cuts (including Trump and the Republicans’ $1.5 giveaway to the wealthy and big corporations) to close any revenue gaps. This could cripple the government’s ability to respond to crises like recessions, natural disasters, and war. Without the ability to leverage taxes and deficit spending, the government cannot stimulate the economy when necessary. The BBA would also increase the chances of the United States defaulting on its debts, which would have dangerous consequences for everyone.
The last time Republicans tried to push through a Balanced Budget Amendment was in 2011. It failed by less than 40 votes in the House. Had it passed, the overall economic consequences of the BBA would hurt all Americans – retired or not. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities(CBPP):
“If such an amendment had been ratified… the effect on the economy would have been catastrophic. It would have caused the unemployment rate to double from 9 percent to 18 percent by throwing an additional 15 million people out of work.” – CBPP quoting a report from Macroeconomic Advisors, 3/16/18
Proponents of the BBA – mainly conservative House Republicans but also some Blue Dog Democrats – are hauling out tattered, old arguments to bolster their case. States balance their budgets, they say. Why can’t the federal government? Families balance their budgets? Why not Congress? While it’s true that some states have balanced budget amendments, many of those apply only to operating budgets, not capital expenditures for long-term projects. Regardless, states do not have the sweeping responsibilities of the federal government, including national defense, federal disaster response, and Social Security or Medicare. As for families, many do strive to balance their household budgets, but still carry mortgages on their homes, auto loans, and sometimes, lines of credit. In other words, like the federal government, states and families are leveraged to meet their vital needs.
The National Committee supports responsible government budgeting; however, we oppose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the measure would significantly harm the economy, result in a government default, and force severe cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other vital federal programs. – National Committee” Viewpoint,” 3/29/18
In sum, the BBA is a bumper sticker masquerading as sound public policy. We expect that the BBA will fail this time around as it has in the past, since passage would require 2/3 majorities in the House and Senate – and ratification by at least 38 states. But even bringing the amendment up for a vote in the House is playing with fire. It’s important that Americans – especially retirees or anyone hoping to retire sometime in the future – recognize the incredibly high stakes of this irresponsible scheme.
In a rare victory for seniors, the passage of the FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations bill in Congress increases funding for several programs that assist the elderly – and gives a much-needed boost to the beleaguered Social Security Administration. The bill favorably responds to a March 14 letter from the National Committee to House and Senate Appropriations Committees members, urging them to prioritize funding for federal programs and agencies vitally important to older Americans. In passing this bill, Congress defied President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, which called for severe cutbacks to – or outright elimination of – several federal programs which vulnerable seniors depend upon.
In the omnibus bill, the Social Security Administration (SSA) gets an increase of $480 million over the previous fiscal year, including $100 million for reducing the backlog in Social Security Disability Insurance hearings – which some 10,000 Americans died waiting for in 2017. The funding bump – which the National Committee has long advocated – should also alleviate some of the excessively long wait times for customer service on SSA’s toll-free phone line and in-person at SSA field offices.
On March 7th, National Committee president Max Richtman testified before the House Social Security subcommittee, urging members to adequately fund SSA. The agency had been subject to an 11% budget reduction since 2010, causing severe cutbacks in customer service at a time when 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day.
The Omnibus bill also includes $59 million more for Older Americans Act Senior Nutrition programs and an increase of $250 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), while the State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) receives a modest increase in funding. The spending plan also gives a $414 million boost to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for Alzheimer’s and dementia research.
“We applaud Congress for maintaining spending for senior programs that President Trump proposed to eliminate in his FY 2018 budget, including the Senior Community Service Employment Program, the Community Development Block Grant, and the Community Services Block Grant, which helps to pay for Meals on Wheels. In a Congress besieged by partisan battles over healthcare and taxes, we welcome the parties coming together to make the wise choice and adequately fund vital government services for America’s seniors. We call on President Trump to sign this bill and not deny millions of seniors the funding increase they need and deserve.” – Max Richtman, National Committee president, 3/23/18
This morning, President Trump threatened to veto the Omnibus bill, but changed course and signed it this afternoon, averting a government shutdown.
Read the National Committee’s analysis of the FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations bill here.
Not only is Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania’s special Congressional election a rebuke to President Trump, it is an affirmation that voters want Social Security and Medicare to be vigorously protected. Last month, the National Committee endorsed Lamb, a U.S. Marine and former federal prosecutor who champions Americans’ retirement and health security.
“Our nation needs his leadership, vision and determination to fight for working families and older Americans. Conor Lamb understands and supports the critical roles that Social Security and Medicare play in the lives of our nation’s older citizens and their families. We look forward to working with Conor Lamb to protect – if not expand – Americans’ earned benefits.”” – National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman.
On Wednesday, President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan twisted themselves into knots trying to spin Lamb’s victory as a win for conservatism. Though Lamb took a few conservative positions (as well he might in a historically Republican district), his support for programs benefitting working families was rock solid.
*He promised to boost Social Security benefits and expand Medicare to cover hearing, vision, and dental care – and to protect both programs from GOP attempts to cut and privatize them.
*He opposed the Trump/GOP tax scam, calling it a “giveaway” to the wealthy, advocating instead for a tax cut truly aimed at “working and middle class people” without adding to the debt.
*He railed against GOP attempts to repeal and undermine Obamacare, promising to work to “help people with pre-existing conditions, improve the quality of care, and reduce premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and prescription drug prices.”
On issue after issue, Lamb is unabashedly on the side of working Americans. This election was a test of voters commitment to these issues – and the results were clear. The fact that Lamb earned more votes – albeit by a razor-thin margin – in a deep red district where the Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in the previous two elections proves that voters want to protect working people’s interests.
Health care, in particular, was voters’ top-ranking concern in Pennsylvania’s special election, according to an exit poll released yesterday. As The Hill newspaper reports, “For 52 percent of voters, health care [was the] top issue when deciding who to vote for, while 19 percent said it wasn’t at all important to them.”
The poll also found that 53 percent disapprove of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, while 39 percent approve. This is leading some Democrats to think health care could be a winning issue for them in the 2018 midterms, when they hope to retake seats in Congress. – The Hill newspaper, 3/15/18
For more than a year, President Trump and Congressional Republicans have engaged in a war against the programs that working Americans rely on for basic income and health security – while passing trillions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations. Working people’s well-being hinges on electing more defenders of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare to Congress this Fall. With the 2018 Congressional elections drawing closer, Conor Lamb’s victory is a positive harbinger for those who fight for the working class, and a warning to those who don’t.
Watch our live analysis of Conor Lamb’s win on “Behind the Headlines” via Facebook Live.