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Social Security & Medicare: So Much More than Numbers on a Spreadsheet

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare is commemorating Black History Month with blog posts from a number of the nation’s leading policy analysts, lawmakers, and community leaders.  We’ll examine the importance of programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to the African American community while also paying tribute to generations of African Americans who have struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. 

Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford  comes to  the  113th Congress as a strong advocate for Social Security and Medicare based on his own personal experience with the vital role these programs play in the lives of American families.  

 

Rep. Steven Horsford  - (D) Nevada’s 4th District

Medicare and Social Security are sometimes referred to as “entitlements.” In reality, they are promises. They are social insurance programs that prevent poverty in our golden years and they help our parents and grandparents live the comfortable and dignified retirement they deserve. These programs keep America’s promise to our seniors and protect the health of the most vulnerable.

The debate over funding for our social insurance programs can sometimes get lost in spreadsheets and numbers. Ultimately, however, these programs are about people. I know this all too well.

When I was a young boy, my grandmother suffered a stroke and fell into a coma. When she awoke, half of her body was paralyzed, and from there on out she spent the final 27 years of her life moving from nursing home to nursing home, depending on where beds and resources were available.  At a young age, I had no idea that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were a crucial part of my grandmother’s life support.  But they were.

I visited her every week.  Those trips to her bedside are still with me today, and they are a constant reminder that when we cut the budget, we are not just talking about numbers.  We are talking about people. We are talking about our families and the ones we love. We are talking about my grandmother.

So, we will get our debt under control, but we will not cut our way to prosperity, and we will not neglect our most vulnerable citizens in the process.  We will not take a hatchet to our safety net.  It’s just not right, especially while corporations continue to receive trillions of dollars in special tax breaks. 

Members of my district are also uniquely affected by proposals to defund Medicare and Social Security.  Hispanics make up 27% of the population in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, and African-Americans make up 16%. Devastating cuts to social insurance programs would be amplified for many of my constituents. Two-thirds of African-Americans and Hispanics have incomes below $22,500 post-retirement, and many rely solely on Medicare to receive health services. How can we say that these constituents, who live with so little and receive the bare minimum in benefits, are part of a “spending problem?”

Medicare and Social Security serve as important and necessary programs to keep seniors healthy.  We cannot go back on a promise for safe retirement and health benefits. Our seniors have built their future around the existence of programs they have paid into for years. For my grandmother and my constituents, I vow to fight to protect these programs.

 

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Social Security and Capitol Hill

Now that the White House and GOP budgets are out it’s time for both sides to start explaining them.  The White House team has been on Capitol Hill testifying before Congress.  This is our favorite bit of testimony so far, between Sen. Bernie Sanders and  OMB Director, Jack Lew, on the role Social Security plays (or doesn’t as the case may be) in our national debt.  Go Bernie… House Ways and Means Committee Democrats came out swinging against the GOP budget provisions for Social Security.  Their news release said:

“The 2011 budget plan presented this week by the House Republican Majority strips $1.7 billion away from the Social Security Administration (SSA) for the remainder of the year, a cut so drastic that SSA would need to impose the equivalent of a month of furloughs.  The entire agency would have to shut down all operations for 20 working days.  The phones would not be answered, field offices would be closed, and claims processing would halt.  Over half a million new retirees, disabled workers and survivors would be forced into a backlog before they could receive the benefits they earned.”
And then, just in case you missed the full White House News conference yesterday, here are a few of President Obama's Social Security comments.  We clearly have work ahead of us:
THE PRESIDENT: Now, you talked about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  The truth is Social Security is not the huge contributor to the deficit that the other two entitlements are.I'm confident we can get Social Security done in the same way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were able to get it done, by parties coming together, making some modest adjustments.  I think we can avoid slashing benefits, and I think we can make it stable and stronger for not only this generation but for the next generation. Medicare and Medicaid are huge problems because health care costs are rising even as the population is getting older.  And so what I've said is that I'm prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to start dealing with that in a serious way.  We made a down payment on that with health care reform last year.  That's part of what health care reform was about.  The projected deficits are going to be about $250 billion lower over the next 10 years than they otherwise would have been because of health care reform, and they’ll be a trillion dollars lower than they otherwise would have been if we hadn’t done health care reform for the following decade. But we're still going to have to do more.  So what I've said is that if you look at the history of how these deals get done, typically it’s not because there’s an Obama plan out there; it’s because Democrats and Republicans are both committed to tackling this issue in a serious way. THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we're going to be in discussions over the next several months.  I mean this is going to be a negotiation process.  And the key thing that I think the American people want to see is that all sides are serious about it and all sides are willing to give a little bit, and that there’s a genuine spirit of compromise as opposed to people being interested in scoring political points. Now, we did that in December during the lame duck on the tax cut issue.  Both sides had to give.  And there were folks in my party who were not happy, and there were folks in the Republican Party who were not happy.  And my suspicion is, is that we’re going to be able to do the same thing if we have that same attitude with respect to entitlements. But the thing I want to emphasize is nobody is more mindful than me that entitlements are going to be a key part of this issue -- as is tax reform.  I want to simplify rates.  And I want to, at the same time, make sure that we have the same amount of money coming in as going out. Those are big, tough negotiations, and I suspect that there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in the months to come before we finally get to that solution.  But just as a lot of people were skeptical about us being able to deal with the tax cuts that we did in December but we ended up getting it done, I’m confident that we can get this done as well. THE PRESIDENT: Well, the fiscal commission put out a framework.  I agree with much of the framework; I disagree with some of the framework.  It is true that it got 11 votes, and that was a positive sign.  What's also true is, for example, is, is that the chairman of the House Republican budgeteers didn’t sign on.  He’s got a little bit of juice when it comes to trying to get an eventual budget done, so he’s got concerns.  So I’m going to have to have a conversation with him, what would he like to see happen. I’m going to have to have a conversation with those Democrats who didn’t vote for it.  There are some issues in there that as a matter of principle I don't agree with, where I think they didn’t go far enough or they went too far.  So this is going to be a process in which each side, both in -- in both chambers of Congress go back and forth and start trying to whittle their differences down until we arrive at something that has an actual change of passage. And that's my goal.  I mean, my goal here is to actually solve the problem.  It’s not to get a good headline on the first day.  My goal is, is that a year from now or two years from now, people look back and say, you know what, we actually started making progress on this issue. THE PRESIDENT:  This is a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go, and then ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over.  And I think that can happen. THE PRESIDENT: And all of us agree that we have to cut spending, and all of us agree that we have to get our deficits under control and our debt under control. And all of us agree that part of it has to be entitlements. But, look, I was glad to see yesterday Republican leaders say, how come you didn’t talk about entitlements?  I think that’s progress, because what we had been hearing made it sound as if we just slashed deeper on education or other provisions in domestic spending that somehow that alone was going to solve the problem. So I welcomed -- I think it was significant progress that there is an interest on all sides on those issues.
Actually,  most Americans don’t agree "entitlements" should be a part of this deficit conversation.

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Tired of the Lies about Social Security? So are we...

National Committee’s Truth Squad Arms Americans with the Facts about Vital Seniors' Programs and Our National Debt

America’s seniors have a huge stake in the national economic debate. Unfortunately, fiscal hawks have launched a well-publicized misinformation campaign to persuade Washington that Social Security is to blame for our fiscal mess when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  Social Security has not contributed one dime to our federal debt; however, it is being targeted to pay the price. To counter the misinformation, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has mobilized a Truth Squad to give seniors the facts about Social Security and Medicare and the roles these vital programs play in our budget debate. The Truth Squad campaign includes:
  • The “Whopper of the Week” highlighting the latest false claim plus our myth-busting response
  • Myth-busting fact sheet which details the Myths being spread and the Facts to rebut them
  • Social Security and Medicare Tool Kits to help activists engage
  • Online E-card to send to your members of Congress
  • Our Legislative Action Center with sample letters that can be emailed directly to Congressional representatives and your local newspaper
  • “Washington Watch”, providing the latest news on efforts to target Social Security & Medicare for cuts
  • Send a postcard to the White House in our “Cutting Social Security Makes No ‘Cents’ Campaign”
See more at: http://www.ncpssm.org/Truth_Squad/

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Budget Battle Begins - What about Social Security?

“I applaud President Obama for proposing a budget that does not target Social Security beneficiaries to foot the bill for years of deficit spending. This gives those of us who advocate for Social Security, additional time to inform more in Congress that Social Security is not the cause of this budget crisis nor is it the solution. Seniors, who have gone two years without a COLA increase, are also thankful for the $250 one-time economic recovery payment included in this budget. Proposing $1.1 trillion in budget cuts requires some tough choices, however, preserving the guaranteed benefits that American workers have paid for and depend on is the right budget strategy. Older Americans especially continue to suffer in this economy and they are thankful the President did not cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. They know Social Security has not contributed a dime to our deficit crisis and, contrary to claims by fiscal hawks, should not be used to balance our federal books.”…Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO The National Committee and its millions of members and supporters nationwide have delivered hundreds of thousands of petitions, emails, and phone calls to Congress and the White House reminding our elected leaders that Social Security has not contributed to our national debt. However, well-financed Washington special interests have used our rising debt as a political opportunity to push cuts in Social Security under the guise of deficit reduction.  Cutting Social Security benefits should not be used as a litmus test for ‘fiscal responsibility’, ‘serious debate’ or being an ‘adult’. We will continue to send that message to Washington as the budget debate continues. The National Committee’s “Truth Squad” is the heart of our campaign to provide analysis, myth busting and grassroots tools for activists nationwide.

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American Workers and Welfare Queens

The Republican Party’s chosen speaker to follow-up the President’s State of the Union has finally said out-loud what has been kept on the down-low for a year... the GOP will embrace Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget “roadmap” to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. We’ve already written a long post detailing Ryan’s plan and the CBO analysis of it, when it was unveiled.  Now that it's the heart of the Republican Budget approach we think it's worth another look:

In short, it is a budget plan which decimates Social Security and Medicare in the name of deficit reduction.  The only thing new about this strategy, is the fact that Rep. Ryan isn’t shy about acknowledging that he believes seniors should foot the bill for our current economic nightmare. As for Social Security, the GOP Roadmap leads to the same privatization dead-end for seniors, who are already reeling from Wall Street excesses and collapse which have decimated their nest-eggs.  Once again, just as we saw in President Bush’s failed privatization plan, long-term solvency isn’t the goal.  The goal is to turn Social Security over to Wall Street through the creation of Social Security private accounts.
Of course, we know unraveling the nation’s safety net is a policy dream for some in Washington and unfortunately last night’s speech provided much of the same tired “us versus them” language we’ve come to expect. Especially from those who care more about tax cuts for millionaires than seniors who dare to collect an average $14,000 annual retirement benefit they’ve worked to contribute over their entire working lives. Harkening back the “good old days” of Ronald Reagan’s attack on “welfare queens”, last night Rep. Ryan suggested collecting Social Security will somehow lead to a future of welfare-like dependency:
“a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.”
Of course, this kind of language is really nothing new. Consider Fiscal Commission Co-Chair Alan Simpson:
"And yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know ‘em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits! "
And then there’s America’s leading anti-Social Security campaigner, billionaire Pete Peterson:
"We will no longer be able to afford a system that equates the last third or more of one's adult life with a publicly subsidized vacation."
This campaign to convince Americans that we can’t afford Social Security—even though we can afford tax cuts for billionaires--is now far more than just political rhetoric.  It is at the heart of the Budget debate beginning in earnest in Washington today. Please take a moment and educate yourself about the Ryan Roadmap and the GOP proposals for Social Security and Medicare.  These futures of these programs will likely be determined in this Congress and it’s vital that you know just what’s at stake. Here are a few links to read and share: Ryan’s Plan Would Convert Medicare to a Voucher Program, Vastly Cutting Benefits. “People who become eligible for Medicare after 2020 would no longer have access to a defined set of benefits from any participating health care provider. Instead, they would receive a voucher worth $11,000 (on average) to be used to purchase private health insurance… Moreover, the Ryan plan imposes no requirement that private insurers actually offer health coverage to Medicare beneficiaries at an affordable price, or at all. Some beneficiaries, particularly the frail elderly, people with disabilities, and those with very modest incomes, could end up uninsured or heavily underinsured.” [Congressional Budget Office, 1/27/10; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/7/10 <http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3114> ] Ryan’s Plan Would Eliminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program. “The Ryan proposal would eliminate most of Medicaid and all of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Low-income families with children would receive a health insurance tax credit and some additional low-income assistance and be pushed into the private health insurance market to fend for themselves.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/7/10 <http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3114> ] Ryan’s Roadmap Would Raise Middle-Class Taxes While Handing Giveaways To Millionaires. Ryan’s Plan Would Give More Than $500,000 to Millionaires While Raising Taxes for Middle Class Families. Households with incomes of more than $1 million would receive an average annual tax cut of $502,000, while the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of Americans would receive an average tax cut of $1.7 million a year.  At the same time, about three-quarters of Americans — those with incomes between $20,000 and $200,000 — would face tax increases. For example, households with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 would face an average tax increase of $900. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/7/10 <http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3114> ; Urban Institute and Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center, 3/9/10 <http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/numbers/displayatab.cfm?Simid=359> ] Under Ryan’s Plan, Wealthiest Americans Would Pay Lower Tax Rate Than Middle-Class Families. “The Roadmap would lead to the wealthiest Americans paying a lower average tax rate than most Americans. Eliminating taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest, as the Roadmap proposes, would overwhelmingly help taxpayers at the top of the income distribution, who receive most or all of their income from capital. For example, Wall Street financiers could shelter all of their income as tax-free stock options or carried interest.” [Economic Policy Institute, 1/20/11 <http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/paul_ryans_plan_for_millionaires_gain_and_middle-class_pain/> ]

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