Social Security beneficiaries will receive a much-needed, 2.8% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2019 – providing a $39 bump to the average monthly retirement benefit. The 2019 COLA is higher than 2018’s (2.0%), which was partially offset by an increase in Medicare Part B premiums for many beneficiaries. With Medicare Part B premiums anticipated to rise minimally for most beneficiaries next year, most Social Security recipients will be able to keep the lion’s share of the cost-of-living increase.
“This COLA is good news for seniors living on fixed incomes. Every extra dollar helps. But the current COLA formula (the CPI-W) is inadequate because it does not account for seniors’ rising expenses – especially housing and health care. COLAs could be improved by adopting the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), which is based on retirees’ actual spending habits rather than those of the general population,” – Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
There is legislation in Congress, including Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act and Rep. John Garamendi’s CPI-E Act of 2017, which would require the use of the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly to determine COLAs for a broad array of federal retirement programs, including Social Security. November’s elections may breathe new life into these bills after languishing under the current Congressional leadership.
With four weeks to go until election day, seniors and their families should be seeking answers to some crucial questions affecting Social Security and Medicare. Those answers must come from anyone who wants the votes of current and future retirees on November 6th, because the future of Americans’ earned benefits depends on electing candidates who truly support both programs.
- Will you work to expand Social Security and Medicare?
It is not enough for a candidate (whether incumbent or challenger) to say he or she “supports” Social Security and Medicare. At a time of rampant income inequality and rising living expenses for seniors, both programs must be expanded in order to keep retirees healthy and out of poverty.
There are several bills in Congress that could be enacted to enhance benefits while keeping both programs financially sound for the foreseeable future. Those bills have not been properly considered under the current Congressional leadership. Ask your candidates if they support bills like the Social Security 2100 Act, the Social Security Expansion Act, the Medicare Fair Drug Pricing Act, and other like-minded measures. They are crucial to retirees’ financial and health security moving forward.
- Do you believe that Social Security and Medicare need to be ‘reformed’ to close the deficit, if not for today’s beneficiaries then for future retirees?
Beware any candidate who uses the term ‘entitlements.’ Seniors have earned their Social Security and Medicare benefits over a lifetime of work, which is why we call them ‘earned benefits.’ Likewise, be wary of candidates who call for Social Security and Medicare ‘reform.’ That is code for benefit cuts – whether by raising the retirement age, imposing more meager cost-of-living adjustments, or means testing. It can also mean privatizing Medicare, which would leave future retirees with fewer choices and higher out of pocket expenses – and eventually, the demise of traditional Medicare itself. Many members of Congress have brazenly called for Social Security and Medicare cuts to pay for the Trump/GOP tax scheme.
Tread carefully when a candidate promises not to touch earned benefits for today’s retirees, but favors ‘reform’ for future beneficiaries. This is a time-worn and cynical attempt to divide the generations. Seniors do not want to see their children or grandchildren’s future benefits cut – and tomorrow’s retirees will have an even harder time saving for retirement than previous generations; they will need the lifeline that Social Security and Medicare provide as much, if not more, than today’s seniors.
- Do you support lifting the payroll wage cap so that the wealthy pay their fair share for Social Security?
A majority of Americans across party lines support raising the cap on payroll deductions – so that high earners continue paying into Social Security above the current in come limit of $128,400. Ask your candidates if they support this common sense measure that would help keep Social Security solvent for decades. Two of the major pieces of legislation mentioned above would do just that. See if your candidates agree that the wealthy paying their fair share is a far preferable solution to cutting benefits for retirees struggling to make ends meet.
- Will you push to empower Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices directly with Big Pharma?
Once again, poll after poll suggests that most Americans want Medicare to be able to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. It’s one of the most intuitive ways to maintain Medicare’s financial health for future generations and bring down prescription costs for everyone. Medicare defenders in Congress have introduced legislation to allow such negotiations, but these bills have predictably stalled under the current leadership.
- Do you support expanding traditional Medicare to include hearing, vision, and dental coverage?
Older people frequently experience problems with their ears, eyes, and teeth – yet Medicare still does not include hearing, vision, and dental benefits. Hearing aids alone can cost thousands of dollars out of pocket that many seniors simply can’t afford. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer these benefits – but with a trade-off of a limited choice of physicians and other providers. Do your candidates support hearing, vision and dental coverage for all Medicare beneficiaries?
Pundits and politicians have called the 2018 election one of the most consequential in modern history. That is not hyperbole. So many issues – and the rights and quality of life for so many Americans – are at stake. One thing is certain: everyone gets old and nearly everyone will experience an illness or chronic condition at some point in their lives. Most everyone will eventually rely on Social Security and Medicare. Current and future seniors deserve political leadership that will protect both programs from dangerous cuts – and ensure that benefits are boosted to adjust to older Americans’ actual needs. Only candidates who can answer these five questions to your satisfaction deserve your vote on November 6th.
On November 6th, voters will choose whether to boost or cut Social Security and Medicare. The stakes are that simple. Republicans proposals would raise eligibility ages, reduce benefits and undermine both programs. On the other side, Democrats have introduced bills to expand and protect seniors’ earned benefits – legislation which has languished in a GOP-controlled Congress.
Voters will have a clear choice between candidates who talk about ‘entitlement reform’ and those who truly champion Social Security and Medicare for current and future retirees. With five weeks until election day, the National Committee is supporting more than 60 candidates for House and Senate who share the commitment to preserving and enhancing seniors’ financial and health security. Here are a few of the candidates we are adding to our list this week:
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is a “strong proponent” of Social Security, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and earns a 100% rating from the National Committee. Ditto for Medicare, as she co-sponsored the Medicare and Medicaid Protection Act to protect the two programs from partisan attacks through the budget reconciliation process. Her opponent, Kevin Nicholson, has proposed means testing earned benefits and “indexing” the retirement age to average life expectancy.
In Virginia’s 7th district, former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger is challenging incumbent Congressman Dave Brat. Brat is a Tea Party favorite who has been campaigning to slash seniors’ earned benefits since first running for Congress in 2014, telling CNN last year, “(We’re) going to have to do some major cuts” to Social Security and Medicare. Spanberger opposes “any attempts” to privatize either program or to cut benefits, and pledges to “protect Social Security and Medicare so we can meet our obligations to seniors, now and into the future.”
Democrat Mike Levin seeks the House seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa in California’s 49th district. He believes that Social Security and Medicare are “some of the most successful programs in our nation’s history” and thinks we should be “doing the opposite” of raising the retirement age. Levin pledges to strengthen – not slash – benefits. The San Diego Union-Tribune calls Levin an “easy pick” in his race against Republican politico Diane Harkey.
Maine state representative Jared Golden is running against Congressman Bruce Polquin in the state’s 2nd Congressional district. Golden has rightly called out the GOP incumbent for voting to take healthcare away from more than 100,000 Mainers, adding $2 trillion to the debt by voting for the Trump/GOP tax plan and “threatening cuts to Social Security and Medicare to pay for it.” Golden promises to fight “privatization or rollback” of either program and advocates increasing benefits “so that more seniors have the opportunity for comfortable, secure retirements.”
One can see from the Real Clear Politics statuses for these races that the outcomes are not a forgone conclusion. Only one of the candidates we support, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, has a clear lead five weeks before election day. That’s why the National Committee has been encouraging seniors and their families to vote as if Social Security and Medicare are on the line. Because this election year, they truly are.
With Americans’ earned benefits under almost constant threat from the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, the importance of November’s elections – exactly six weeks from today – could not be clearer. The very future of Social Security and Medicare is at stake. That’s why the National Committee vigorously supports more than 80 House and Senate candidates across America who champion Social Security and Medicare.
This month, National Committee representatives took the fight for Social Security and Medicare to two decidedly red areas of the country. NCPSSM President and CEO Max Richtman campaigned for House candidate Brendan Kelly in Southern Illinois, while legislative director Dan Adcock traveled to Montana in support of congressional candidate Kathleen Williams.
Both candidates are staunch defenders of earned benefits; both face Republican opponents whose positions on Social Security and Medicare are troubling. At separate endorsement events, Richtman and Adcock presented Kelly and Williams with the National Committee’s trademark red boxing gloves to signify that the candidates are fighters for America’s seniors.
Williams is challenging Republican incumbent Greg Gianforte for Montana’s lone House seat. “I will make sure that our seniors can retire with dignity by protecting Medicare and Social Security no matter what,” promised Williams, a three-term member of Montana’s state legislature and one of the more than 180 women running for Congress this year. Williams received a ringing endorsement from Dan Adcock at public forums in Livingston and Bozeman, Montana.
“Kathleen Williams appreciates that Montanans are just getting by and that they don’t have money left over from their paychecks to save for retirement. She gets that Social Security and Medicare need to be protected, particularly for the growing share of workers who will depend on their earned benefits for most of their financial and health security in retirement.” – Dan Adcock, NCPSSM Director of Government Relations and Policy
In Illinois 12th District (carried by Donald Trump in 2016 by a 15% margin), Navy veteran and former prosecutor Brendan Kelly seeks to unseat Republican Mike Bost. Bost has voted with President Trump 98% of the time, including a ‘yes’ on the Trump/GOP tax cuts. Challenger Kelly charges that Congressman Bost “handed big banks and Big Pharma a corrupt tax giveaway — threatening Medicare and Social Security.”
“We need leaders who will keep Big Pharma in check. We need leaders who will allow Medicare to negotiate prices, a move which will save seniors’ money and lives.” – Congressional candidate Brendan Kelly, Illinois 12th District
Max Richtman heartily endorsed Kelly at a packed town hall in Waterloo, Iowa:
“I wanted to come out here to make this endorsement because, as Brendan said, this is an important race… and important to the programs I care about and I believe you care about.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM President and CEO
With the stakes so high, NCPSSM has been encouraging all eligible voters to make their voices heard at the ballot box six weeks from now. Americans must choose between candidates who simply pay lip service to Social Security and Medicare – and those who are committed to protecting – and expanding – both programs. They must scrutinize the records of incumbents who may have supported proposals to cut and privatize Social Security and Medicare. By endorsing and supporting candidates across the nation, the National Committee hopes to help voters make these crucial choices.
In case there was any doubt that the White House and many Congressional Republicans still want to cut Americans’ earned benefits, chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow just confirmed it. On Monday at the Economic Club of New York, Kudlow told CNBC’s Becky Quick that Social Security and Medicare are still very much on the table:
QUICK: Will the Trump administration tackle entitlement reform?
KUDLOW: Well, we’ve already tackled a big part of the newest entitlement, namely Obamacare. As far as the larger entitlements, I think everybody’s going to look at that probably next year. I don’t want to be specific, I don’t want to get ahead of our own budgeting, but we’ll get there.
This aligns with comments from National Republican Congressional Committee chair, Rep. Steve Stivers, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and several other key GOP members about the need to pay for last year’s tax cuts by ‘reforming’ Social Security and Medicare. ‘Reforming,’ of course, means cutting and privatizing.
“Polls consistently indicate that majorities of Americans oppose cutting earned benefits and privatization – and do not support the Trump/GOP tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations. Kudlow’s remarks are particularly ironic in light of President Trump’s recent assertion that the administration and its allies in Congress will ‘protect’ Social Security and Medicare while Democrats want to ‘destroy’ them.” – Max Richtman, National Committee President, 9/18/18
The President’s claims fly in the face of reality, of course. Just last week Democrats energized their campaign to boost benefits by launching Expand Social Security caucuses in the House and Senate. Democrats have already introduced legislation to strengthen Social Security and reduce costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the Republicans’ latest budget proposals call for billions in cuts to both to Social Security and Medicare. In an article published yesterday, MSNBC producer Steve Benen laid bare the hypocrisy of President Trump’s claims.
“As election-season pitches go, the idea that Republicans will support Medicare and Social Security more than Democrats is as cynical as it is ridiculous. But while the president and some of his cohorts vow to protect these pillars of modern American life, other Republicans are stepping on the party’s message and signaling their intentions to cut those programs.” – Steve Benen, MSNBC, 9/17/18
In his comments yesterday, the president’s top economic advisor has just reinforced the political right’s true priorities: cutting benefits for seniors and disabled Americans living on fixed incomes to pay for tax cuts for the rich.