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Will Seniors Reject Republicans in 2018?

Older voters have been gravitating to the Republican party for the better part of the past two decades. Forty-eight percent of seniors identify or lean Republican compared to 45% for Democrats --- and Donald Trump won 53% of the senior vote last Fall.  But are we about to witness a “grey” re-alignment?  According to an article in today’s The Hill newspaper, Democrats say maybe so.  Democratic strategists are hoping that Republicans are starting to repel seniors by striving to repeal Obamacare, gut Medicaid, privatize Medicare and cut Social Security.  It doesn’t help that President Trump’s proposed budget slashes federal block grants that help pay for Meals on Wheels and other programs that stabilize and support seniors.

In a Facebook Live broadcast with National Committee President Max Richtman today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) agreed that seniors may swing back to the Democratic party in the next election cycle.  “Republicans like to imply that seniors are greedy geezers,” Schakowsky said, “But their Obamacare replacement would have allowed seniors to be charged up to 500% more than younger Americans for private health insurance.”

There are myriad reasons for older voters’ preference for the GOP in recent years.  The majority of white voters identify as Republicans --- and some 85% of today’s seniors are white.  Many of today’s older voters came of age during the prosperous post-war America of the 1950s – and may feel alienated by cultural changes associated with the Democrats.  In fact, candidate Trump skillfully played on seniors’ nostalgia for a bygone (and in many ways, imaginary) America.

Another factor may be that seniors have felt supremely confident – some would say overly confident – about the sanctity of the two federal programs that benefit them the most, Social Security and Medicare.  The Democrats may have done such a good job protecting these programs that seniors simply take them for granted.   In fact, the last time that the majority of seniors voted Democratic was in the 2006 congressional elections, after President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security.  Democrats and seniors’ advocates like the National Committee stopped him.  On the other hand, President Trump won the senior vote not only by thrumming the strings of nostalgia, but by promising not to touch Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (promises he is already breaking). 

To win back seniors in 2018 and beyond, Democrats must remind them that Republicans are an existential threat to our cherished retirement and health security programs.  In other words, thanks to the GOP, the time for overconfidence in the inevitability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is over.  President Trump is already shattering his sacred promises to older voters.  He fought for the GOP’s American Health Care Act which would have cut nearly $1 trillion from Medicaid (on which poorer seniors depend for long-term care) and reduced the solvency of Medicare by three years.  House Speaker Paul Ryan still dreams of turning Medicare into a voucher program.  Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX) is pushing a bill to cut cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security and raise the retirement age to 69. And despite his campaign vows, the president has surrounded himself with budget hawks who are sharpening their knives for seniors’ earned benefits programs.  (Earlier this month, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney questioned whether disability benefits should even be a part of Social Security.)

Democrats must also bust the oft-repeated myths that Republicans use to justify benefit cuts --- that Social Security and Medicare are going “bankrupt” and need to be “modernized” (translation: privatized and cut).  If Congress does nothing, Medicare still will be able to pay 87% of benefits beyond its 2028 “insolvency” date and Social Security 79% of benefits beyond 2034.  To win the senior vote, Democrats must push the kind of modest and manageable solutions proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman John Larson (D-CT), and others to keep these programs solvent for the long haul – with no benefit cuts.

Recent polling suggests that the party who sides with seniors on these crucial issues will reap political gains.  The National Committee’s own poll of likely voters showed overwhelming support for traditional Social Security and Medicare.  Even more encouraging, strong majorities opposed benefit cuts and higher eligibility ages --- and favored boosting benefits by scrapping the payroll tax cap so that the wealthy pay their fair share. As long as Democrats back up their rhetoric with action and vigorously oppose harmful changes to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, they have a decent shot at winning back those coveted seniors at the ballot box.

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Will Seniors Reject Republicans in 2018?

Older voters have been gravitating to the Republican party for the better part of the past two decades. Forty-eight percent of seniors identify or lean Republican compared to 45% for Democrats --- and Donald Trump won 53% of the senior vote last Fall.  But are we about to witness a “grey” re-alignment?  According to an article in today’s The Hill newspaper, Democrats say maybe so.  Democratic strategists are hoping that Republicans are starting to repel seniors by striving to repeal Obamacare, gut Medicaid, privatize Medicare and cut Social Security.  It doesn’t help that President Trump’s proposed budget slashes federal block grants that help pay for Meals on Wheels and other programs that stabilize and support seniors.

In a Facebook Live broadcast with National Committee President Max Richtman today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) agreed that seniors may swing back to the Democratic party in the next election cycle.  “Republicans like to imply that seniors are greedy geezers,” Schakowsky said, “But their Obamacare replacement would have allowed seniors to be charged up to 500% more than younger Americans for private health insurance.”

There are myriad reasons for older voters’ preference for the GOP in recent years.  The majority of white voters identify as Republicans --- and some 85% of today’s seniors are white.  Many of today’s older voters came of age during the prosperous post-war America of the 1950s – and may feel alienated by cultural changes associated with the Democrats.  In fact, candidate Trump skillfully played on seniors’ nostalgia for a bygone (and in many ways, imaginary) America.

Another factor may be that seniors have felt supremely confident – some would say overly confident – about the sanctity of the two federal programs that benefit them the most, Social Security and Medicare.  The Democrats may have done such a good job protecting these programs that seniors simply take them for granted.   In fact, the last time that the majority of seniors voted Democratic was in the 2006 congressional elections, after President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security.  Democrats and seniors’ advocates like the National Committee stopped him.  On the other hand, President Trump won the senior vote not only by thrumming the strings of nostalgia, but by promising not to touch Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (promises he is already breaking). 

To win back seniors in 2018 and beyond, Democrats must remind them that Republicans are an existential threat to our cherished retirement and health security programs.  In other words, thanks to the GOP, the time for overconfidence in the inevitability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is over.  President Trump is already shattering his sacred promises to older voters.  He fought for the GOP’s American Health Care Act which would have cut nearly $1 trillion from Medicaid (on which poorer seniors depend for long-term care) and reduced the solvency of Medicare by three years.  House Speaker Paul Ryan still dreams of turning Medicare into a voucher program.  Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX) is pushing a bill to cut cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security and raise the retirement age to 69. And despite his campaign vows, the president has surrounded himself with budget hawks who are sharpening their knives for seniors’ earned benefits programs.  (Earlier this month, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney questioned whether disability benefits should even be a part of Social Security.)

Democrats must also bust the oft-repeated myths that Republicans use to justify benefit cuts --- that Social Security and Medicare are going “bankrupt” and need to be “modernized” (translation: privatized and cut).  If Congress does nothing, Medicare still will be able to pay 87% of benefits beyond its 2028 “insolvency” date and Social Security 79% of benefits beyond 2034.  To win the senior vote, Democrats must push the kind of modest and manageable solutions proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman John Larson (D-CT), and others to keep these programs solvent for the long haul – with no benefit cuts.

Recent polling suggests that the party who sides with seniors on these crucial issues will reap political gains.  The National Committee’s own poll of likely voters showed overwhelming support for traditional Social Security and Medicare.  Even more encouraging, strong majorities opposed benefit cuts and higher eligibility ages --- and favored boosting benefits by scrapping the payroll tax cap so that the wealthy pay their fair share. As long as Democrats back up their rhetoric with action and vigorously oppose harmful changes to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, they have a decent shot at winning back those coveted seniors at the ballot box.

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Advocates Gear Up for Medicare Battle on Capitol Hill

 The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare participated  today in the delivery of over 1,000,000 petition signatures demanding that Congress “keep its hands off of Medicare.”  National Committee President and CEO Max Richtman joined Senators Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic Reps.Ted Deutch, Jan Schakowsky, and Tony Cárdenas in presenting the petitions on Capitol Hill this morning.

Calling GOP plans to privatize a program that 53 million Americans depend on the “War on Medicare,” Richtman warned, “We are going to hear that Medicare needs to be ‘modernized.’ Modernization is a good thing if you are remodeling a kitchen... but not for Medicare.”

The petitions were delivered to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who wants to privatize Medicare by replacing guaranteed benefits with vouchers.  Ryan’s “coupon care” program will result in benefit cuts and higher out of pocket costs for seniors.  Equally alarming is President-elect Trump’s pick of a diehard privatizer, Rep. Tom Price, for Health & Human Services Secretary.  Richtman summarized the GOP’s message to seniors on Medicare and their families, “You are going to be on your own and good luck… and I’m not even sure about the good luck part.”

Senator Sanders delivered an impassioned message to President-elect Trump, who promised during the campaign not to touch Social Security and Medicare.  “Mr. Trump,” he thundered, “We are going to hold you accountable.  Millions of us are going to demand that you keep your promise.”

Members of the National Committee’s Capital Action Team came to Capitol Hill in their bright yellow t-shirts to drive home the message that every day Americans won’t tolerate Ryan and Price’s efforts to destroy Medicare.

Richtman handed out red boxing gloves to Reps. Pelosi, Schakowsky and Deutch symbolizing advocates' readiness to take on lawmakers who try to wreck Medicare.  He ended the petition delivery event with a strong call to arms.  "Now, let's all get to work and win this war."

A National Committee on-line petition drive is underway to continue building a wall of public opposition to any proposals to cut Medicare.

 

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Medicare and the Affordable Care Act: Keep Moving Forward

Barbara B. Kennelly
NCPSSM President/CEO
When the Affordable Care Act became law last March, critics predicted doom for the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare. They said that coverage would disappear, benefits would be cut, and death panels were on their way – none of which was true. But these lies scared many seniors about the law before it was explained to them.   Now, one year later, as the implementation of the law moves forward, Medicare is still sound – it’s stronger than it was before the law was passed – and millions of people with Medicare are benefitting from the law.   Medicare has gotten serious about cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse. Last year, the Obama administration announced it had recovered $4 billion in Medicare fraud. And the Affordable Care Act provides tools to crack down even further.   The Affordable Care Act specifically says that Medicare’s guaranteed benefits – hospital care, doctors’ services, home health services, drug coverage, and more – are protected.  Benefits are as good as ever – better, in fact. Prescription drugs are more affordable. This year the nearly 4 million beneficiaries who fall into the prescription drug “doughnut hole” will receive discounts on their drugs. These discounts will increase over the next few years until the doughnut hole is closed.   The Affordable Care Act encourages beneficiaries to get the care they need before they get sick. Now, the more than 44 million people with Medicare can get an annual wellness visit or needed screenings for diabetes or cancers without having to pay a co-pay. Early detection and treatment not only saves money but it saves lives.      The new law ends Medicare overpayments to insurance companies and rewards those that provide high quality care. But as these changes are phasing in starting this year, beneficiaries still have a wide range of plans to choose from.   States have new options to let seniors and people with disabilities stay in their homes rather than having to move to a nursing home when they need help. And in the coming years, thanks to the new law, Medicare will lead the way to better coordinated patient care that should improve the quality of care while reducing costs.   But there is a threat out there. The new leadership of the House of Representatives has dedicated itself to repealing the Affordable Care Act. This would undo all of these improvements. Fraud-fighting tools, coverage in the doughnut hole, free preventive care, better coordinated care, and the chance to stay in your own home would all be gone.   Even worse is their alternative. Some proposals call for increasing out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries – something the Affordable Care Act does not do. Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has a more detailed plan he calls a “roadmap.” He calls for jaw-dropping cuts to the program, including raising the eligibility age to 69, slashing Medicare over time by 76 percent, and replacing the program with a cash voucher that would shift most of the cost of health care to individuals. This plan would be devastating both to current beneficiaries and to today’s working families who are counting on the Medicare program they pay into to protect them from unaffordable health care costs when they retire.   Representative Ryan leads the House committee responsible for producing a budget. But his roadmap leads us backwards to a period when our most vulnerable were forced to choose between health care costs and other necessities like food and shelter. We reject this vision, and we hope Congress does too. A year ago, we passed the Affordable Care Act to strengthen and improve Medicare for current and future generations. Let’s keep moving forward on that path.

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Poverty and Seniors

There are just some records you don’t want to break.  Unfortunately, the U.S. has shattered two of them, according to new numbers released this week by the Census Bureau.  The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans is the widest on record and there are now more poor Americans today than in any time since the bureau has measured poverty.   The Associated Press reports: 

"Income inequality is rising, and if we took into account tax data, it would be even more," said Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who specializes in poverty. "More than other countries, we have a very unequal income distribution where compensation goes to the top in a winner-takes-all economy." “The poverty gap between young and old has doubled since 2000, due partly to the strength of Social Security in helping buoy Americans 65 and over. Child poverty is now 21 percent compared with 9 percent for older Americans. In 2000, when child poverty was at 16 percent, elderly poverty stood at 10 percent. Safety nets are helping fill health gaps. The percentage of children covered by government-sponsored health insurance such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program jumped to 37 percent, or 27.6 million, from 24 percent in 2000. That helped offset steady losses in employer-sponsored insurance.” 
How ironic that as evidence continues to show, over and over again, how critically important our nation’s safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare are for millions of Americans, so many in Washington continue to target these very same programs for cuts.   And at what cost to millions of working Americans?  The Center for American Progress addressed the issue of elderly poverty and seniors economic security in “The Not-So-Golden Years”:
“Social Security is tremendously effective in helping seniors and their families stay out of poverty. Its benefits kept 14 million elderly Americans out of poverty in 2009. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated in an analysis of 2008 Census data that the elderly poverty rate would actually exceed 40 percent in most states without Social Security benefits. The majority of people kept out of poverty by Social Security are elderly, but the Census data shows almost a third of those kept out of poverty are under 65 and include more than 1 million children.”
The fact that America’s poor are worse off and adding more to their ranks while the wealthiest get richer can’t continue to be ignored in our national economic debate; particularly as some in Washington argue now’s the time to cut safety net programs for working Americans while extending tax cuts to the wealthy.

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