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Republican Senators Say Now’s the Time to Cut Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid

A group of freshman GOP Senators has decided the time is right to launch a frontal assault on funding for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Led by Georgia’s David Perdue, the conservative Senators claim the only way to tackle the nation’s debt is to fundamentally change the way America’s earned benefit programs have been managed since their creation. 

Specifically, they want to give Congress new authority to cut benefits each year (or at least every other year) including the creation of arbitrary spending caps.  Both moves ignore the unique nature of how Social Security and Medicare are funded; specifically, the fact that American workers contribute to these earned benefits through their payroll taxes.

“We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”...President Franklin Roosevelt

“In the 1983 Social Security Amendments a provision was included mandating that Social Security be taken "off-budget" starting in FY 1993. This was a recommendation from the National Commission on Social Security Reform (aka the Greenspan Commission). The Commission's report argued: "The National Commission believes that changes in the Social Security program should be made only for programmatic reasons, and not for purposes of balancing the budget. Those who support the removal of the operations of the trust funds from the budget believe that this policy of making changes only for programmatic reasons would be more likely to be carried out if the Social Security program were not in the unified budget." (Note that this was a majority recommendation of the Commission, not the unanimous view of all members.) This change was in fact enacted into statute in the Social Security Amendments of 1983, signed into law by President Reagan on April 20, 1983.”...Social Security Administration

For years, the billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby and their allies in Congress have tried to use our nation’s economic woes as an excuse to cut the earned benefits that millions of average Americans have paid for and depend on. This latest effort would put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block for each and every budget battle.

Not surprisingly, Republican spin-meisters acknowledge that the vast majority of Americans, no matter their political affiliations, oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare to balance the budget.  Their solution?  Just don’t admit that’s the goal.  Instead, stick to talking points that promise you’re “saving” the program rather than the truth...that you’re slashing benefits:

“Republican pollster Whit Ayres says that despite the long-held conventional wisdom, it’s not suicide to talk about entitlement reform right before an election. But he cautioned senators to proceed cautiously.

‘Here’s what voters want to see: A healthy and thriving Social Security and Medicare system,” Ayres said. ‘If Social Security and Medicare are going to be jeopardized without any changes, then voters will support changes.’ 

 But he warned that entitlement reforms have to be framed as proposals to extend the solvency of Social Security and Medicare and not primarily as a strategy to balance the budget. 

‘The Democrats then come along and say we should not balance the budgets on the backs of our seniors and they win the argument,” he added. “But it’s very effective to argue that we have to reform our entitlement programs to preserve and protect those programs for current and future generations.’ ...The Hill, 10/1/16 

In an attempt to appeal to America’s (understandable) frustration with Congress (or more likely to deflect attention away from this attack on middle-class benefits) these GOP Senators suggest that if Congress doesn’t pass a budget (which could include cuts to Social Security and Medicare) then lawmakers would be penalized with a “steep reduction” to their paychecks. While that might make the populists out there say, “it’s about time,” don’t forget the fact that the majority of U.S. Senators are millionaires. You can be sure that the Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts they propose for you will hurt far more than any threat to trim Congressional salaries: 

“The median net worth for all senators increased to $2.7 million from $2.5 million, but in that body it was the Republicans who were better-off. Senate Democrats reported a median net worth of $1.7 million (a decline from 2011’s $2.4 million), compared to Senate Republicans, at $2.9 million (an increase from $2.5 million).”...Open Secrets 

Seniors should not fall for this political bait and switch. If Congress really wants to strengthen Social Security and Medicare for future generations then let’s talk about lifting the payroll tax cap or allowing Medicare to negotiate for cheaper prescription drug costs. However, you won’t see these proposals offered by fiscal hawks. Why? 

Because they don’t cut benefits. That’s what this is all about.

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New Medicaid Rules Designed to Put Care Over Profit

CMS has announced tightened Medicaid rules for private insurance plans that administer most Medicaid benefits for the poor. The Obama administration says the rules will limit profits, ease enrollment, require minimum levels of participating doctors and eventually provide quality ratings.  However, those ratings would still be years away as the industry continues to fight against such measures. 

Kaiser Health News provides details on the biggest changes for Medicaid managed care in a decade.  The new rules will:

  • Require states to set rules ensuring Medicaid plans have enough physicians in the right places. The standards will include “time and distance” maximums to ensure doctors aren’t too far away from members.
  • Limit insurer profits by requiring rate setting that assumes 85 percent of revenue will be spent on medical care. Unlike a similar rule for other plans, such as insurance sold through Obamacare marketplaces, the requirement would not compel Medicaid insurers to rebate the difference if they don’t hit 85 percent. Future rates would be adjusted instead.
  • Make plans regularly update directories of doctors and hospitals. A 2014 investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general found that half the doctors listed in official insurer directories weren’t taking new Medicaid patients.
  • Push plans to better detect and prevent fraud by providers, including mandatory reporting of suspected abuse to the states.
  • Tighten rules for Medicaid plans and states to collect patient data and submit it to HHS.
  • Make it easier for states to offer managed-care plans incentives to improve clinical outcomes, reduce costs and share patient information among hospitals and doctors.

Nearly two-thirds of Medicaid’s 72 million member are enrolled in private managed-care plans.  Consumer advocates have pushed HHS to set stricter rules for managed-care plans, which they said too often favored profits over patients. The industry and some state Medicaid directors resisted, saying plans needed flexibility to serve different members in different states.

The rules will be phased-in over the next three years, starting next summer. 

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Social Security & Medicare Finally a Topic of Debate

Ok, not a debate so much as a battle to see who can cut seniors’ benefits faster.  While Trump remains the only GOP Presidential candidate who promises he won’t cut Social Security, even that promise became squishy last night.  More on that, later. 

Here’s just a sampling of some of last night’s comments on what the remaining GOP candidates plan for generations of American families counting on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, followed by our comments:

Senator Marco Rubio

Social Security will go bankrupt and it will bankrupt the country with it.”

This is conservatives’ favorite lie.  Social Security isn’t going bankrupt.  According to SSA actuaries, the nearly $3 Trillion Trust Fund will be depleted in 2034 (as planned) to cover the baby boomer generation.  After that, there will still be enough income coming into the program to pay 79 percent of all benefits owed. If Congress does nothing seniors will face a 21% benefit cut.  A 21% benefit cut is not bankruptcy and certainly could not cause America’s bankruptcy.

“Medicare could very well become the option of using my Medicare benefit to buy a private plan that I like better”

The Republican dream of giving seniors a coupon to go out and buy private health insurance is a favorite of Speaker Paul Ryan and those in Congress who hope to destroy Medicare once and for all.  The program is too popular to kill outright, so they’ve chosen a privatization route for Medicare that is a political kissing-cousin to President Bush’s failed effort to privatize Social Security.  If they can’t kill these programs, conservatives want to (at least) turn America’s most successful retirement and health security programs over to industry so Wall Street, insurance companies and drug makers can profit. 

Senator Ted Cruz

“Social Security right now is careening towards insolvency... We need to see political courage to take this on and save and strengthen Social Security.”

In the classic case of “save” meaning “slash” and “strengthen” meaning privatize, Senator Cruz offers the well-worn conservative trope that cutting benefits to millions of American families while at the same time cutting taxes for the wealthy shows political courage and leadership.  See our comments above on the “careening towards insolvency” nonsense.

“We need to change the rate of growth of benefits so it matches inflation instead of exceeding inflation...we need to have for younger workers, that a portion of your tax payments are in personal accounts.” 

If hard to imagine how anyone can seriously argue that a zero cost of living increase for 3 out of the past 7 years, somehow exceeds inflation.  Seniors, veterans and people with disabilities have seen their costs increase in the same years their COLA was flat.  Social Security beneficiaries need a new COLA formula, one that actually measures seniors’ cost of living.  However, Ted Cruz wants the Chained CPI to cut benefits not to accurately measure inflation.

John Kasich

“I also had a plan in 1999 to save Social Security and take the $5 trillion projected surplus and not only have Social Security for our young people, but also to give them private accounts.”

John Kasich’s plan to “save” Social Security is standard GOP “we-must-slash-it-to-save-it” boilerplate with a little seniors just need to "get over it" thrown in.   Kasich would cut benefits to pay down the debt and privatize Social Security so seniors can watch their contributions ride the Wall Street roller coaster.  Then he’d cut billions more with lower COLA’s through the Chained CPI (again, what’s lower than zero?) and turning Social Security into a welfare program by means testing.

Donald Trump

Since we just wrote about Trump’s Social Security promises (there’s not really a plan) in detail we’ll focus only on last night’s twists.  For the first time ever, Trump’s promises to not cut Social Security benefits were offered with important qualifiers.  For a candidate who has no problem making big promises, last night’s about Social Security have taken on a downright passive tone – as if Trump, as President with potentially with a GOP House and Senate, wouldn’t have the power to leave Social Security benefits alone:

“I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security”

“'s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is.”

This speech Trump gave to conservatives at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference provides one suggestion as to why he remains the only GOP candidate to promise he won’t cut Social Security & Medicare benefits (hint, it’s not because he loves the programs):   

"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

If you missed last night’s debate, you can read excerpts on what the candidates had to say specifically about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on our SeniorVote2016 website. 



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New Election Website Designed for Seniors Launches Today

As Primary Season Gets Underway, SeniorVote2016

Provides Timely, Comprehensive and Important Resources for Voters

Whose Futures Depend on Social Security & Medicare

The 2016 election for the White House and Congress will be expensive, combative and extremely important for the future of generations of older Americans. Literally millions of American families are impacted by decisions made in Washington on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid yet these issues remain on the back-burner for many political candidates. To help arm voters with the facts, the National Committee has launched as a one-stop, easy to use source of information on the 2016 campaign. 

SeniorVote2016’s Candidate Watch provides easy-to-use interactive graphics showing the candidates’ campaign positions and plans for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with links to additional interviews and statements about these vital programs.  The Reading Room offers details of current legislative proposals which would impact American’s retirement and health security including questions voters can ask candidates about where they stand on issues such as: turning Medicare into a voucher program, cutting Medicare to fund other programs, raising the Social Security retirement age, cutting benefits through adoption of the Chained CPI and creation of a cost of living adjustment for seniors (CPI-E).  Visitors to SeniorVote2016 can also Take Action directly from the website by pledging to vote and engaging on social media with other Social Security and Medicare activists. 

In addition to the roll out of SeniorVote2016, the National Committee has launched a daily email news digest, providing readers with the latest media coverage on the campaigns and the issues. “Your Morning Read” will have a summary of the important need-to-know stories voters will value as they determine which candidates are most committed to preserving and strengthening America’s most successful programs. 

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The GOP Poverty Solution...Do Less and the Poor Will Do Better?!?

In 2014, 46.7 million people (14.8%) were living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. The poverty rate for people aged 65 and older was lower, at 10%, thanks to the success of earned benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare.  In spite of these programs’ undeniable success in providing improved income and health security for older Americas, GOP leaders in Congress and most running for President, continue to target Social Security and Medicare for cuts. They also have supported cuts to other vital safety net programs serving America’s poor.  

While this weekend’s GOP Poverty forum may have signaled a shift to softer rhetoric on poverty (an issue that has seldom been addressed by Republican candidates, so far) there’s no sign that their policy prescriptions have changed at all. 

Robert Greenstein is the founder and President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and provides this Huffington Post analysis of the GOP’s primary poverty proposal:

Our analysis suggests Paul Ryan's "Opportunity Grant" proposal carries substantial risk of increasing poverty, rather than reducing it, for the following reasons:
  • Although Speaker Ryan has described the proposal as maintaining the same overall funding for anti-poverty programs, that would be a practical impossibility. 
  • Funds would likely be shifted away from direct assistance to needy families.
  • The proposal would jeopardize basic nutrition assistance for poor children, which research has shown reduces child malnutrition and improves children's long-term prospects.
  • Not only would food assistance funding likely decline, but total funding to assist low-income families would likely decline as well.
  • History shows that when federal policymakers merge programs into a broad block grant, federal funding typically declines over time, often dramatically.”
Economist Jared Bernstein says: 
“This is merely a gussied up version of “if your only tool is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” The idea, and Ryan’s budgets very much underscore this point, is that we can help the poor more by doing less for them.
The evidence points strongly in the opposite direction. As CBPP’s Arloc Sherman noted yesterday (and Ben Spielberg and I have explained in detail), a large and growing body of high-quality research...shows that the impact of income support and safety net programs like SNAP and Medicaid do not just occur upon receipt and immediately fade away. They have important, positive long-term benefits for children.  Next, the idea that liberal policies have failed is belied by…you know…data.”

Paul Ryan’s long-held and often-expressed Ayn Randian view of every man for himself and claims that federal safety-net programs (including earned benefits in Social Security, Medicare) only provide a “hammock” for the “dependency culture” of “makers and takers” remain as the core value that fuels the GOP approach to poverty.  Although, Speaker Ryan now acknowledges his “maker-taker” rhetoric was a mistake, that clearly hasn’t moderated his policy approach.  

“Under his “Opportunity Grant” proposal, Ryan has proposed converting a number of programs to state block grants, a decision that nonpartisan analysis suggests would reduce families’ ability to access key programs such as nutrition and housing assistance. In crafting this idea, Ryan and other conservatives often point to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program as a model—even though it does very little to mitigate poverty and hardship and is unresponsive to recessions.
Furthermore, in their most recent congressional budgets, Republicans obtained two-thirds of their cuts from programs helping low- and moderate-income families, while channeling additional resources towards tax cuts for the wealthy.” The Nation

The GOP/Ryan budgets have all been characterized by tax cuts for the wealthy, program cuts for the poor and turning Medicare into “Coupon Care.”

“Once again, the House GOP’s budget would privatize Medicare with a voucher plan, leaving seniors and the disabled – some of our most vulnerable Americans – hostage to the whims of private insurance companies.  Over time, this will end traditional Medicare and make it harder for seniors to choose their own doctor.  Vouchers will not keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance… that is why seniors will pay more.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
The GOP/Ryan Budget: 
  • Ends the Medicaid joint federal/state financing partnership and replacing it with fixed dollar amount block grants, giving states less money than they would receive under current law. 

  • Repeals Medicaid expansion. Since 2014, states have had the option to receive federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage. Over half of the states have expanded their Medicaid programs, and others will likely do so in the future.  Repealing this option would result in at least 14 million people losing their Medicaid coverage and state Medicaid programs would lose a total of $900 billion over 10 years. 

  • Cuts Medicare by $431 billion over ten years.  Over half of Medicare beneficiaries had incomes below $23,500 per year in 2013, and they are already paying 23 percent of their average Social Security check for Medicare cost-sharing in addition to out-of-pocket costs.

Talking about poverty in America is a welcome first step from the Republican candidates; however, talk is cheap if action is just more of the same benefit cuts to pay for tax cuts.  


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