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Lamb's Victory a Win for Social Security, Medicare, and Working Americans Everywhere


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. 

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SSA Funding Cuts Will Hurt the Disabled, Retirees, and Children

National Committee President Max Richtman joined advocates and elected representatives on Capitol Hill today to demand that Congress adequately fund the Social Security Administration (SSA).   Richtman, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bob Casey (D-PA) railed against Republican plans to cut nearly $500 million from the Social Security Administration's operating budget in the upcoming government funding bill.

The agency has been woefully underfunded since 2011 and Social Security claimants have been paying the price in the form of reduced service and long wait times.  Social Security's core operating budget shrank by 11 percent from 2010 to 2017 in inflation-adjusted terms. This occurred even as 10,000 baby boomers a day reach retirement age.  Congress has the ability to solve this problem, but has not signaled a willingness to do so.  

The House-approved FY 2018 appropriations legislation would continue underfunding the agency, freezing SSA's operating funds for another year.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed an even more painful reduction of $460 million, nearly 4 percent of the operating budget. 

At today’s event on Capitol Hill, Max Richtman highlighted the costs of SSA budget cuts to applicants and claimants:

“The result of this neglect is obvious.  When workloads increase, and funding is cut, service suffers – big time. The money to adequately fund the administration of Social Security is there. But the collective conscience of Congressional leaders is absent. Time and again, they have knowingly cut the number of lifelines available to workers, retirees, the disabled and their families.” – Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 1/18/18

In fact, some 10,000 disabled Americans died last year waiting for a Social Security disability hearing. That shameful figure alone should be a compelling enough argument for restoring SSA’s funding to adequate levels. Budget cuts have forced SSA to close more than 60 field offices across the country, reducing in-person access to services. The average wait time on SSA’s toll-free number is 18 minutes.  The average national wait time for a disability hearing exceeded 600 days in 2017.  Ironically, these service cuts come at a time when 10,000 Baby Boomers become eligible for Social Security every day.

 “The enemies of Social Security in Congress are making a very bad situation even worse (by proposing cuts to SSA’s operating budget.)  They want to make it impossible to effectively administer the program, and ultimately want to destroy Social Security.” – Senator Bernie Sanders, 1/18/18

“America made a promise to Social Security beneficiaries.  America must honor its promise and that means no cuts to the Social Security Administration.  We must make sure that seniors, the disabled, and survivors of beneficiaries receive the benefits they are entitled to.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 1/18/18

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) decried the majority party’s “maniacal obsession” with cutting costs “in the most pernicious way,” making it harder for the Social Security Administration to carry out its mission.

SSA is funded through workers’ Social Security payroll contributions and not from general revenue.  The agency is one of the most efficient in the entire federal government, spending less than 1% of its revenue on administrative costs.  Congress is wrong to leave the agency so grossly underfunded, but some lawmakers may have a hidden agenda in letting SSA languish. 

 “Starving the Social Security Administration’s administrative funding is not only pennywise and pound foolish, it also amounts to a backdoor way to dismantle Social Security by eroding the public’s confidence in the program.”  - Max Richtman, 1/18/18

It is not outrageous to suggest that the budget-induced aggravation and delay confronting claimants would, indeed, undercut public support for Social Security, smoothing the way for actual benefit cuts later. 

The retired, disabled and survivor constituents of members of Congress deserve better. That’s why the National Committee urges Congress to reject the Senate Appropriations Committee's $460 million cut and instead increase Social Security’s operating budget so it can do its job for the American people:  a job they deserve, and as it happens, a job for which they have pre-paid.

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Hollow Victory for Trump & GOP is a Loss for Seniors, Working Americans

National Committee President and CEO Max Richtman issued the following statement after passage of the Trump/GOP tax plan.

“Congressional Republicans have just pulled off the biggest heist in American history – transferring trillions of dollars of wealth to the rich and profitable corporations at the expense of working and middle class Americans.  By ramming this ill-considered legislation through Congress in a reckless manner, GOP members of Congress put partisanship over people and donors over constituents.  Last-minute revisions designed to woo holdout Senators – including a change benefitting real estate moguls like President Trump – tilted the bill even further toward wealthy elites.  

It is wrong to ask the poor, the working class, and elderly to pay for tax breaks for the rich and powerful, which is exactly what the Trump/GOP tax bill will do.  The tax cuts will explode the federal debt by at least $1.5 trillion, laying the groundwork for an all-out effort to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  House Speaker Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have already promised as much in recent public statements.  Blowing up the debt for tax cuts, then claiming that there’s no choice but to cut benefits for seniors is the height of hypocrisy. As proof of Republicans’ intent, the 2018 GOP budget resolution slashes nearly $500 billion from Medicare and more than $1 trillion from Medicaid. 

The bill’s repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate will result in 13 million Americans losing coverage, and an average $1,500 hike in health insurance premiums for older adults aged 50-64.  Adopting the miserly “Chained CPI” inflation index for calculating tax brackets and deductions could easily creep into the formula for determining Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), which would cost retirees thousands of dollars in the long run.  Unfortunately, the pleas of advocates and everyday Americans demanding that Congress abandon this cynical legislation has fallen on deaf ears. But it’s a hollow victory for the GOP. While the perpetrators of the tax scam may be popping the champagne today, next November they surely will see that voters have declared the party’s over.” 

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National Committee President, House Dems Decry GOP Tax Plan’s "Dire" Impact on Seniors

As Republicans remain indifferent – or in denial – about the impact of the Trump/GOP tax scam on older Americans, seniors’ defenders are sounding the alarm.  National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic representatives in front of the U.S. Capitol today to warn of the dangers the tax plan poses to seniors’ retirement and health security. Richtman called the tax bill a “con game that should be called the ‘Washington two-step.’”

“Step one is cutting taxes for top-earning households and profitable corporations. Step two:  use the higher deficits the tax bill will create to cut critical programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM president and CEO, 12/6/17

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) let the cat out of the bag when he acknowledged that Republicans will come after seniors’ earned benefit programs as soon as the tax cut passes.  In fact, the tax bill will trigger an immediate $25 billion cut to Medicare unless Congress quickly waives the PAYGO provision of federal budget law. (Both Medicare and Medicaid – which helps seniors afford long-term care – are targeted for deep cuts in the GOP budget plan.) The tax scam also hurts older Americans by zeroing out the Obamacare coverage mandate penalty (which could result in higher premiums for 50-64 year-olds).  It also imposes the paltry “Chained CPI” as an inflation index for taxes, which could later bleed over into Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and shrink badly needed increases in retirees’ checks. 

Speaking on this chilly December afternoon in the nation’s capital, Leader Pelosi said, “It’s a cold day for seniors because of this GOP tax scam. It is an assault on the older Americans who built this country.  Seniors are among the biggest losers in this legislation.”

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) called the tax bill “the first step in the Republican plan to undermine the financial and health security of older Americans.”

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) observed that the threat to seniors from the GOP tax legislation “keeps getting worse and worse” and said the bill would have “cruel and dire” consequences.  She slammed the House bill’s repeal of the medical expense deduction, which millions of seniors use to mitigate high out-of-pocket medical and long-term care costs.

Republican members of a House-Senate conference committee are currently meeting behind closed doors to work out the differences between each chamber’s version of the tax bill.  Leadership hopes to pass a final bill and send it to President Trump for signature before Christmas – perhaps the worst holiday gift Congress could possibly give to the American people.  Seniors and their advocates are right to be concerned about this legislation, which is deeply unpopular with the public (only 29% of Americans support it in the most recent polling).  But after years of dreaming about slashing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, Republicans are now in a position to carry out their craven plans - without apparent regard for public opinion, fairness, or decency. 

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The Week Brings Good & Bad News for Medicaid

Let’s start with the good news. Yesterday, voters in Maine overwhelmingly approved the expansion of Medicaid in their state (59% to 41%), bucking the will of Republican Governor Paul LePage. The Governor had vetoed Medicaid expansion five times, but the people had the final say in yesterday’s referendum.  Now, some 70,000 Mainers should be newly eligible for Medicaid.  That includes thousands of older residents not yet eligible for Medicare who can’t afford private health coverage.  Forbes calls the outcome a “victory for Obamacare.” 

A spokesman for the group that sponsored the ballot initiative starkly defined the stakes.

“Too many Mainers have already waited too long for health care. They shouldn’t have to wait any longer. The governor cannot ignore the law or the Constitution of Maine. Simply put, the governor does not have veto power of citizen’s initiatives and he cannot ignore the law.” – David Farmer, Maine Medicaid expansion advocate

The federal government will cover 90% of the cost of expansion, injecting nearly $500 million into Maine’s economy in the next two fiscal years. A recent study says those federal funds will generate 6,000 new jobs (mostly in the health sector). 

Maine becomes the 33rd state (including D.C.) to expand Medicare.  But as Sarah Kliff writes in Vox, the way Maine did it provides a potential template for expanding the program in other states:

Maine is the first state to expand Medicaid during the Trump administration, and also the first to do so via a ballot initiative than legislation. This offers a possible playbook for health care advocates in other states looking to extend coverage but stymied by political opposition. – Sarah Kliff, Vox 11/7/17

Of the 17 holdout states, Utah, Idaho, and Kansas may see Medicaid expansion on the ballot in 2018.  Increased coverage, better access to care, and a huge economic boon should make this an obvious ‘yes’ vote – though outcomes are not guaranteed, especially without robust advocacy.

Advocates can expect the same kind of pushback from conservatives in these other states.  Governor LaPage peddled the falsehood that the expansion would put an unsustainable financial burden on the Maine government.  The Portland-Press Herald reports that the governor also perpetuated the myth that expanding Medicaid would give “free” healthcare to “able-bodied adults who can work and contribute to their own health insurance costs.”

And that leads us to some bad news, which is that the Trump administration is using that same canard to chip away at Medicaid in red states across the country.  Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), announced a rule change this week that will allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries.  This supposes, of course, that there are legions of lazy Medicaid enrollees who could work, but just don’t want to – a total myth.

As Talking Points Memo reported, most adults on Medicaid suffer from some of disability and cannot work.  According to a 2017 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 27% of Medicaid beneficiaries are adults without disabilities.  Of those, 60% are, in fact, working.  Most of the recipients not working have one of the following extenuating circumstances: 

  1. Caring for a family member full-time
  2. Lack of jobs in their area
  3. Criminal record prevents employment

The bottom line:  most of the Medicaid recipients who can work do work

These new conditions will especially onerous for some six million older Americans (age 45-64) currently on Medicaid.  This age group experiences more disability and chronic illness than younger recipients do.  If forced to go without care because of new restrictions, they will arrive at the doorstep of Medicare in worse health, which can drive up program costs. 

The Obama administration had it right, by allowing rule changes at the state level which “increase and strengthen overall coverage of low-income individuals” and “improve health outcomes for Medicaid and other low-income populations.” The Trump administration, under Verma’s leadership, is showing its contempt for the elderly and poor – and knee-jerk suspicion of federal programs that actually help society’s most vulnerable. What’s more, CMS’ new rules defy candidate Trump’s promises to “not touch your Medicaid.” But as we’ve seen with his pledges to protect Social Security and Medicare, the President’s promises are not worth the megabits they’re tweeted on. 


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