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From the monthly archives: June 2010

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'June 2010'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

Social Security and the Fiscal Commission

The President's Fiscal Commission has set aside today as the day they'll hear from the "public".  Of course, that's the public as defined by Washington which is largely advocacy and interest groups.  The event is being streamed online here. Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly, speaks to the panel today and has focused her remarks on the quest to cut Social Security.
Thank you for inviting me to be here today.  I will be limiting my remarks to Social Security.    You are faced with the difficult mission of finding ways to reduce the deficit.  On behalf of the 3 million members and supporters of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare – and millions of other Americans who support Social Security – I am here to urge you:  while you are considering your macro-economics and deficit numbers – please do not lose sight of the millions of individual people whose quality of life depends on every decision you make affecting Social Security.   Many of my points are sometimes forgotten in the face of today’s fiscal crisis.  -          More than 9 out of 10 American workers participate in Social Security – thus changes you make in the program will affect virtually every person in this country -          Today, 52 million Americans receive benefits from Social Security – and many rely heavily on these benefits for their income   Social Security today creates a stable, basic income for all families when the primary breadwinner is no longer able to work because of age, disability or death.  Social Security allows the elderly to live out their lives in dignity, with a basic benefit that reflects the contributions they make to the program during their working years.      But despite its importance to the American people, Social Security is not a generous program and the vast majority of seniors are not wealthy.  They are average Americans who worked hard all their lives.        -          Their median income in retirement is just $18,000 -          The average Social Security retirement benefit is only $13,800 a year - $11,000 for women.  -          And about 40% of the average senior’s Social Security check goes to health care out-of-pocket costs, even with Medicare  Most importantly, Social Security will be just as critical to younger generations of workers as it is to today’s retirees.  If anything, young people’s financial world could be more chaotic than their parents:  -          Jobs with traditional pensions are a thing of the past -          Only about ½ of today’s workforce has access to any kind of retirement plan through their employer, and -          The value of the largest retirement asset millions of workers own was destroyed when the housing bubble burst. What many of today’s workers have is their Social Security – and there simply isn’t much room to reduce their benefits.    I was in Congress in 1983 during the last major Social Security reform.  We made a number of changes designed to fund the benefits of the baby boomers when they began retiring in the early 2000s.    That reform was immensely successful – it extended the programs’ solvency for over half a century.  And the surplus we built was invested in the safest asset possible – Special Issue Treasury Bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.  I know it is customary for some today to disparage the Trust Funds as if they don’t exist.  But those bonds are no different than any other debt instrument issued by the United States government, and I find it incomprehensible that Congress might someday agree to pay back our foreign neighbors before honoring the debt it owes to the American people.    I understand the drive to reduce the deficit – frankly, I’m as appalled by $1.4 Trillion in red ink this year as you are.  But Social Security did not contribute one thin dime to the deficit – it should not be used as a piggy bank to fix the mistakes of the past.   The American people do not support cutting Social Security in order to reduce the deficit.  American workers rightfully see Social Security as their money – not the governments’.  It represents their hard-earned dollars that came out of each and every paycheck throughout their working lives.  They are even willing to pay more to strengthen the program for their children and grandchildren.   They flat-out reject the notion that you can strengthen Social Security by cutting it.    Americans want fiscal sanity returned to Washington, but they don’t believe it should be accomplished by cutting Social Security.    Social Security benefit cuts are the last place you should be looking for deficit reduction, not the first place.   Thank you. 

Will "AmericaSpeaks" Speak for You?

Tomorrow, thousands of Americans nationwide will be asked their opinions on how to bring fiscal sanity back to Washington.  National “town hall meetings” are being hosted by America Speaks --with funding from the Kellogg,  MacArthur, and Peterson Foundations ( Peterson is a leading proponent of cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits in the name of “fiscal responsibility”).  A report summarizing tomorrow's town hall meetings will be delivered to the National Commission for Fiscal Responsiblity and Reform which is charged wtih developing fiscal recommendations by December 1.   We believe if a truly representative cross section of America attends these events and a full and open debate is allowed, then Washington will see just how out of step it is with Americans, of all ages, economic means, and ethnicity.  Americans who understand that Social Security has not contributed one bit to our deficits and that the Social Security trust fund has , in fact, been used as Washington’s piggy bank.   If America really speaks, Washington will find that we want fiscal responsibility; however, we also know cutting benefits to avoid paying back what's owed to beneficiaries is anything but responsible.   But will Americans who understand all this attend tomorrow’s events...or will these meetings be stacked with members from organizations determined to persuade America that the only way to reduce our debt and deficit is to cut Social Security?   The Center for Economic and Policy Research  has prepared two must-read documents.  One analyzes the America Speaks’ Federal Budget Guide,  which will be used at tomorrow’s events.  It highlights some very important omissions that participants need to know for this debate, including: 
  • Why does the guide presume that tax cuts for higher earners should be extended?
  • Why does the guide lump Social Security in with Medicare and Medicaid when Social Security is NOT a major contributor to future deficits?
  • Why doesn’t the guide remind participants that baby boomers have paid extra payroll taxes since 1983 and CBO says those funds will pay full benefits until 2044 with not changes at all?
 CEPR’s second analysis is an even larger breakdown of how the America Speaks program  has been structured, including what will be debated, which topics and options will be discussed and how are they framed.  CEPR says:
 “the program for America Speaks is supposed to include input from a broad range of viewpoints in order to frame an intelligent discussion of the country’s long-term budget problems.  It does not live up to this standard.”
 Is the deck stacked?  It doesn’t have to be. We urge all of our National Committee members and supporters to register to attend an event tomorrow. If you support strengthening Social Security for all generations, be there to provide the perspective and balance too often missing in this debate.   If you believe Washington should fulfill its promise to American workers and honor its legal obligation to Social should attend an event in your area.  If Washington wants to hear America speak then let’s be sure they hear from all of us. Bring these resources along with you to help ensure the debate is fair and accurate. To see if an AmericaSpeaks event is being held near you, check their website.     Don’t have a town hall near your?  Tell the President’s Fiscal Commission directly what you think about proposals to balance the budget with cuts to Social Security.  While your at it, deliver that same message to Congress. You can also use our Legislative Action Center  to connect directly to your representatives on Capitol Hill.

Playing Politics with Medicare...again

On Friday, the fees that Medicare pays to doctors dropped 21 percent because Congress hasn’t been able to pass legislation to prevent the cut. While the Senate passed a bill that day to postpone the rate cut for another 6 months, the House now must vote on the legislation. Reports are, Speaker Pelosi, is not impressed with this substantially shorter “fix” than what the House had already approved.  Medicare doctors and their patients are sick and tired of what’s become an annual Congressional ritual of passing short-term solutions to a problem created almost 15 years ago. Ezra Klein offers a great reminder of how we got here, because contrary to GOP mythology--the doc fix fiasco wasn’t caused by recently passed health care reform legislation--in fact, it could and should have been fixed in that bill:  “You're all probably as tired of reading this as I am of explaining it, but here, again, is the quick background. In 1997, the Republican Congress created a payment formula meant to govern Medicare called the Sustainable Growth Rate. The formula was supposed to be a little tweak that saved a couple billion dollars. But the formula was wrong, and it quickly proved a wrenching readjustment that would've driven physicians out of the program by sharply slashing their payments. But rather than undo it, Republicans in Congress, and then Democrats when they took over Congress, passed temporary fixes, because no one wanted to come up with the money to fix the thing permanently. When health-care reform started, Democrats made an admirable effort to end the shell game and just fix the system. But doing so cost almost $300 billion, and Republicans, who caused this mess in the first place, attacked the Democrats' fix as if it was part of their health-care reform plan rather than part of the Balanced Budget Act that Republicans passed in 1997. So Democrats abandoned the effort and left the fix out of health-care reform.” So, doctors in Medicare are scheduled for pay cuts now or,  if the House acts, temporary relief to pay cuts that will come back around again in just months.  There’s no hope of a permanent fix because the same folks who created the flawed formula in the first place, won’t pay to fix it now.  So, who really pays in all of this?  America’s seniors who are already finding it harder to find and keep their doctors in Medicare.   Remember starve the beast?  This is what it looks like.

Ahhh...the Good Old Days...Debtor’s Prisons and No Entitlements

Apparently, these are the “good-old days” our nation’s fiscal hawks relish.  The Peterson Foundation’s David Walker co-hosted CNBC’s Squawk Box this morning (personally, we yearn for the good-old days when so-called “news” shows were hosted by journalists—not partisan advocates—but that’s another debate).  The discussion followed the classic Peterson Foundation talking points—government bad, business good—but ultimately led to a nostalgic reminiscence for the good old days when Americans faced debtors prisons and had no sense of “entitlement” (presumably to the Social Security and Medicare benefits workers have funded for their entire working lives):
"The fact of the matter is we have to change how we do things. We are on an imprudent and unsustainable path in a number of ways. You talk about debtors prisons, we used to have debtors prisons, now bankruptcy is no taint. Bankruptcy is an exit strategy. Our society and our culture have changed. We need to get back to opportunity and move away from entitlement. We need to be able to provide reasonable risk but hold people accountable when they do imprudent’s pretty fundamental."...David Walker, Peterson Foundation, CNBC Jun 10, 2010
              Now, maybe in the Peterson Foundation’s circle of Wall Street types and multi-billionaires, bankruptcy is an exit strategy, but for millions of middle-class Americans bankruptcy is, in fact, a life-altering and often debilitating choice.  As for pitting “opportunity” vs “entitlement”—that’s classic Peterson Foundation messaging designed to convince us that America’s seniors are somehow riding high on the hog and soaking taxpayers with all of their “entitlements”.  Of course, these fiscal hawks never mention that fact that the government doesn’t pay for those “entitlements”, American workers do. It’s not the government’s’s not Wall Street’s money...and those so-called “entitlements” have been paid for by you and me.  The truth is, retirees are entitled to receive the benefits they’ve been promised; however, fiscal hawks like David Walker would apparently rather roll back the clock, ignore those promises, and build more debtor’s prisons.

Maryland Senior Talks About the Donut Hole

Fran Garfinkle is a 70-year old retired small business owner and cancer survivor from Bethesda, Maryland. She's among four million seniors who will be trapped in the Medicare Part D coverage gap known as the “donut hole” this year.  Fran has seen first-hand how quickly retirement plans can change when confronted with skyrocketing health care costs, rising premiums and Part D’s flawed “donut hole” provision.  She fell into the donut hole for the first time last summer.
“We scrimped and saved and somehow I managed to find the money to buy the prescriptions I needed last year.  Then this May, I reached the “donut hole” again and the whole nightmare started from the beginning.  Like so many others, my husband and I are on a fixed income.  It’s pretty scary.  We pay for medicare plan, medicare supplement plan, prescription drug plan, dental plan and on top of all the copays, we are now paying 100% of my drug costs because I’m back in the “donut hole”...Fran Garfinkle, NCPSSM volunteer
Fran, a volunteer with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, will be joined by President Obama and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a national seniors Tele-Town Hall   event tomorrow.  Participants will talk about the donut hole and provisions in the new health care reform legislation, which will ultimately close the donut hole in addition to making many other improvements to Medicare. 80,000 seniors who’ve already fallen into the donut hole this year will begin receiving the first rebate checks this week to help close their coverage gap.  The $250 checks will continue to go to beneficiaries as more fall into the donut hole throughout 2010. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is committed to providing America’s seniors with updated and detailed analyses of how healthcare reform legislation will affect their medical coverage in Medicare.  In addition to co-sponsoring tomorrow’s Tele-Town Hall event, we’ve released a new web video, “Health Reform and Seniors”, which is being shown during community meetings, town halls and grassroots events.  The video is available on the National Committee’s YouTube Channel . This video supplements the National Committee’s popular newsletter, Secure Retirement, which provides detailed coverage of health care reform in its spring issue.  The publication is in its second printing due to very high demand from seniors nationwide.
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