Voters have put champions of Social Security and Medicare back in control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 8 years. Candidates who promised to protect and expand seniors’ earned benefits scored victories in races across the country, including many endorsed by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
“This is a victory for seniors and their families who have seen their earned benefits threatened time and again under Republican control of the House. The election results mean that Congress can cast aside the tired trope of ‘entitlement reform’ (code for cutting benefits), and work vigorously to boost Social Security and Medicare for current and future retirees. The new majority will serve as a firewall against further attempts to slash Medicaid and repeal or sabotage the Affordable Care Act – and challenge President Trump to fulfill his campaign promises to protect Social Security and Medicare.” – Max Richtman, National Committee President and CEO
Legislation to protect and expand seniors’ earned benefits can now receive serious consideration in the 116th Congress after languishing under Republican control. This includes Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which would increase benefits and keep the system solvent for the rest of the century – and several other bills supported by the National Committee to boost Social Security and Medicare.
When the new Congress convenes in January, Congressman Larson (D-CT) likely will assume the chairmanship of the House Social Security Subcommittee. Another champion of Social Security and Medicare, Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), is expected to wield the gavel in the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, while Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) probably will head the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees Medicare.
“We will work with the new House leadership and members to give retirees a much-needed raise in their earned benefits – and defend seniors from demands that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid be slashed to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations. This is a tremendous opportunity to restore American values of fairness and compassion – including caring for the sick and elderly – to the people’s house.” – Max Richtman, National Committee President and CEO
The Republican candidate for the open Senate seat in Arizona, Martha McSally, probably speaks for other GOP contenders across the country when she says, “I’m getting my a– kicked” on the issue of health care. Congresswoman McSally has been hammered by her Democratic opponent, Krysten Sinema, for twice voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which, among many benefits, protects Americans with pre-existing conditions from denials of coverage and punitive premiums.
“Now locked in a competitive statewide Senate race against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, McSally finds herself blistered by campaign attack ads and having to explain her past votes and current views on health care and the Affordable Care Act, which has grown in popularity in recent years. About 20 million more Americans gained health insurance after the act passed.” – Arizona Republic, 10/29/18
With more than 70% of voters telling pollsters health care is a crucial issue in the mid-term elections, Republican candidates like McSally have been selling themselves as protectors of patients with pre-existing conditions – when they and the Trump administration have spent the past two years trying to obliterate protections that Democrats like Sinema truly support:
“Before the Affordable Care Act, we know many, many people could not get health insurance because they had some sort of condition like diabetes, asthma, heart disease… Someone very close to me filed for bankruptcy over medical bills because of this issue.” – Krysten Sinema, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona
“Republicans are not really interested in this project, but they know the voters really want [health care], so they’re trying to pretend to support it when they don’t,” author and journalist Jonathan Cohn told MSNBC today. Republicans are “trying to rewrite history… brazenly,” he said.
When Trump and the GOP failed by a thin margin to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they began sabotaging the law. The administration reneged on Affordable Care Act payments to keep insurance markets stable, failed to provide adequate public outreach during open enrollment periods, and changed the rules to allow the sale of skimpier policies that don’t protect pre-existing conditions. Congress passed the Trump/GOP tax cuts, which neutralized the Affordable Care Act insurance mandate – further weakening the law.
Twenty Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit arguing that the zeroing-out of the Obamacare mandate should render the entire law null. One of them is Missouri attorney general Josh Hawley, who seeks to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. He had the audacity to claim that he supports protections for pre-existing conditions while being party to a lawsuit that would erase them.
“Scott, in a tight race, desperately launched a last-minute ad campaign declaring his support for protections for people with preexisting conditions — despite trying to kill Obamacare for years.” – Washington Post, 10/26/18
President Trump has set a problematic example for Republican Congressional candidates by twisting the truth for partisan ends. He claims that Republicans – not Democrats – will protect Social Security and Medicare, despite proposing budgets that would slash both programs by billions of dollars over ten years. The President spreads the myth that Republicans will protect people with pre-existing conditions, despite being the saboteur-in-chief of the Affordable Care Act.
The President, McSally, Hawley, Scott and other Republicans should not count on voters having amnesia about GOP actions to undermine the Affordable Care Act, before they suddenly became ‘champions’ of pre-existing conditions for the mid-terms. Americans remember the relentless late night votes for Obamacare repeal bills (the American Health Care Act, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the ‘Skinny Repeal’) that the GOP pursued like a dog with a bone, and thankfully lost. They remember the Trump/GOP tax scam that neutered the insurance mandate at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. Voters know which party has fought for people with pre-existing conditions and which one simply postures while trying to gut affordable health care for all Americans.
“Anybody even dimly aware of recent history ― specifically, the part where Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act, only to have Republicans spend eight years trying to repeal it ― should recognize the claim as a lie… GOP leaders have already made clear that they will try once again to repeal the health care law if they can.” – Huffington Post, 10/25/18
It’s true. While many GOP candidates cling to the falsehood that they support protections for pre-existing conditions, party leaders have hinted that they may renew their attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act after the midterms. That’s just one more reason not to trust the current majority with the future of Americans’ health care. Of all the issues in the coming election, none goes to Americans’ fundamental well-being like this one. At some point in their lives, most voters will have pre-existing medical conditions – and won’t want to be locked out of coverage or pay exorbitant premiums. That’s why it’s so important to separate the health care charlatans from the health care champions, and vote accordingly.
Older Americans are one of the most powerful voting blocs in U.S. elections. More than half of the electorate in the 2016 elections were over 50. Senior voters typically make up an even bigger share of Americans casting ballots in mid-term elections. Some analysts believe older voters will determine who controls the House and Senate in the 116th Congress. There are myriad reasons why older citizens come out to vote – especially in mid-terms – at higher rates than their younger counterparts, including a greater sense of voting as a civic duty and a recognition they have an important stake in every election. For much of the 20th century, seniors largely supported the Democratic party – for some very good reasons.
President Franklin Roosevelt made Social Security one of the landmark accomplishments of the New Deal. Decades later another Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, would push health care coverage as an entitlement for the elderly and make Medicare one of the cornerstones of his Great Society program. – CNN, 9/19/18
Unfortunately, during the first two decades of this century, many seniors have been voting against their own interests by electing candidates who pose an existential threat to the very programs that they depend on for financial and health security. “It’s like clinging to the end of a thin rope and voting for the rope-cutting razor party,” opined writer Edwin Lyngar in Salon.
Blogger Ronni Bennett teased out this concept further in 2015, suggesting that seniors not only hurt themselves by supporting the party of benefit cuts, but the younger generations, as well:
When a person votes for a politician who has promised to cut, eliminate or privatize Social Security, Medicare, SNAP, etc., he or she is voting to impoverish their children’s and grandchildren’s old age (and/or disability) in addition to their own. – Ronni Bennett, As Time Goes By, 1/12/15
President Trump – who won 52% of the senior vote in 2016 to Hillary Clinton’s 45% – prevailed partly by falsely promising “not to touch” Social Security and Medicare. In a classic bait-and-switch, his administration and its allies in Congress proposed budgets that would cut billions of dollars from both programs. Republicans tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which, among other things, guarantees coverage for pre-existing conditions and limits the age penalty that insurers can impose on older patients.
As CNN reported, seniors did themselves no favors in the past two mid-term “wave” elections:
“In the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections when Republicans regained control of the House and Senate, respectively, GOP candidates were solidly backed by voters 65 and up.” – CNN, 9/19/18
The senior vote in those last two mid-terms wasn’t even close. As the chart below indicates, older Americans went for Republicans by a 21% margin in 2010 and 16% in 2014. In fact, most seniors voted for Republicans in three of the last four mid-term elections, though they did help provide Democrats a big enough boost to recapture the House in 2006.
These votes were extremely consequential. The 2010 mid-terms brought the Tea Party to Congress – a bloc of right-wingers intent on shrinking safety net programs (especially Medicare and Medicaid) and immune to compromise (even with their own party leadership). During the 2011-2017 period, Republicans imposed caps on non-defense discretionary spending that led to severe cuts for the Social Security Administration (SSA) and threatened senior services from Meals on Wheels to home heating assistance.
Every budget the House GOP has proposed since 2010 includes the privatization of Medicare and raising the eligibility age as high as 70. The majority also pushed the Chained CPI for calculating Social Security cost-of-living adjustments – a meager inflation index that would amount to a 9% benefit cut over 30 years.
Once the Republicans got control of the House, Senate, and White House in 2016, they enacted a tax cut that mostly benefitted the wealthy and big corporations, then claimed retirees’ earned benefits would have to be slashed to pay for it. Both the White House and Republicans in Congress proposed to eliminate or cut services for low income seniors and research into diseases affecting the elderly. Make no mistake, that is what they will do if voters keep the GOP in control of both houses of Congress on November 6th.
Why then, since 2002, have the majority of senior voters supported the party that continually tries to undercut their benefits? Analysts who have studied this trend attribute it, in part, to the GOP’s weaponizing of cultural issues. Seniors who tend to be more liberal on economic policy but conservative on social issues have gravitated toward the Republicans. John Halpin, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, explains it this way:
“Cultural backlash politics has taken the place of traditional economic-based voting, particularly among older voters. Trump’s ethno-nationalism feeds older voters constant lies about how he is going to protect social welfare programs for people like them, while tacitly or explicitly doing the opposite by aiding wealthy interests with huge tax cuts and then threatening these social programs.” – John Halpin, Center of American Progress
But this wedge strategy may not work with seniors in November. President Trump’s dishonesty, undermining of fundamental American institutions, and erratic behavior may be driving seniors back to the Democratic party – along with his blatantly broken promises about not cutting Social Security and Medicare. Or, as John Halpin observes, “Many seniors and other voters are wising up to the scam and may return to economic concerns.”
In an CNN poll taken earlier this month, 57% of voters aged 65+ said they’d support the Democratic candidate in their Congressional district, compared to 39% for Republicans. That would represent a historic turnaround – and a sign that seniors’ votes and true interests may once again align.
As if to remind us what is at stake with three weeks to go until election day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doubled-down on the GOP’s promises to ‘reform’ Social Security and Medicare, which really means cut and privatize. His comments came on the heels of a Treasury Department announcement that the federal budget deficit grew to nearly $780 billion during President Trump’s first full fiscal year in office, due largely to GOP tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations enacted at the end of 2017.
Nevertheless, in a television interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, McConnell perpetuated the convenient untruth that Social Security and Medicare are the main drivers of the debt.
“It’s very disturbing… There’s been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle those changes because of the popularity of those programs.” – Mitch McConnell, Bloomberg, 10/16/18
In fact, tax expenditures – especially the Trump/GOP tax cuts – are the number one drivers of the debt, not Social Security or Medicare. Social Security is self-funded and does not contribute to the debt. The same goes for Medicare Part A.
Contrary to McConnell’s claim that there is a “bipartisan reluctance” to address the future of Social Security and Medicare, Democrats on Capitol Hill have offered several common sense solutions that would modestly improve benefits, while keeping both programs fiscally sound for the foreseeable future. These include Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, Bernie Sanders’ Social Security Expansion Act, and several pieces of legislation to boost Medicare benefits and empower the program to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma.
However, under the ‘leadership’ of McConnell in the Senate and Paul Ryan in the House, none of these bills has been properly considered. Instead, McConnell and his cohorts insist that the only way forward is benefit cuts for future retirees.
In the Bloomberg interview, McConnell said both parties should have worked together to raise eligibility ages – which amounts to a huge benefit cut – during the Obama years.
“We had the opportunity to do that for 6-8 years. Unfortunately, it was not achieved.” – Mitch McConnell, 10/16/18
Certainly, seniors’ advocates do not consider it “unfortunate” that painful benefit cuts in the form of higher retirement ages were not enacted under President Obama. But McConnell and other GOP leaders have made it clear that they will move forward with this kind of ‘entitlement reform’ if they retain control of both houses of Congress.
This is why we say that the choice this November is between boosting and cutting Social Security and Medicare. One side (represented by McConnell) wants to cut benefits to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy and big corporations; the other wants to modestly increase benefits while assuring the financial health of both programs for decades to come. That’s why it’s vital that seniors and their families cast ballots for candidates who want to expand – not slash – Social Security and Medicare. If McConnell and his compatriots win, retirees lose.
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.