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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. 

A New Commissioner and Boosted Budget Would Go a Long Way at SSA

National Committee president Max Richtman expressed deep concern today about the lack of an appointed leader at the Social Security Administration (SSA) --- and inadequate funding for the agency.   Appearing before the House Social Security subcommittee, Richtman said that SSA “needs strong leadership” to achieve its mission, and that a new Commissioner should be nominated and confirmed.  However, Richtman testified, a new Commissioner will not be able “to deal with the agency’s significant challenges” without sufficient funding. 

“Unfortunately, what we have seen in recent years is a steady decline in funding for the agency at exactly the same time that its workload has soared.” – Max Richtman, National Committee president, 3/7/18

SSA, which serves 67 million Americans receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), has been led by a series of acting directors for the past five years.  The Republican-led Senate refused to confirm President Obama’s nominee, Carolyn Colvin, who departed as acting Commissioner after the Trump administration took office.  President Trump has yet to nominate a Commissioner (one of the hundreds of crucial federal appointments he has failed to make), leaving a new acting chief, Nancy Berryhill, to lead the beleaguered agency.

“The Trump administration demonstrates its lack of concern for the millions of seniors and disabled collecting Social Security by leaving the agency that administers this program without a confirmed Commissioner.” – Max Richtman, 3/7/18

Meanwhile, SSA has been hobbled by draconian cuts to its operating budget for the past seven years. In fact, Congress has slashed SSA’s budget by 11% (adjusted for inflation) since 2010, notwithstanding the 10,000 Baby Boomers who turn 65 every single day.  As Richtman testified, funding cuts have caused needless headaches and delays for beneficiaries.

“SSA has already made cuts in customer service to stay within the confines of these extremely tight budgets, forcing it to close field offices, shorten office hours and shrink staff.  While SSA has increased automation and reduced the number of Social Security statements it provides, these efficiencies cannot compensate for the fact that SSA serves an additional one million beneficiaries each year.” – Max Richtman, 3/7/18

These cutbacks take a real human toll.  Seniors have to wait on hold for an average eighteen minutes on SSA’s toll-free phone line, if they don’t get a busy signal.  Many hang up – and have to call back several times to get a human being on the phone.  Elderly beneficiaries encounter long lines, often with no place to sit, at the diminishing number of SSA field offices around the country.  The average wait time for a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearing has soared to over 600 days.  Shockingly, an estimated 10,000 disabled claimants died in FY 2017 awaiting hearings

Amid this unnecessary delay and suffering, President Trump’s 2019 budget calls for nearly $90 million in additional cuts to the Social Security Administration budget – an effective reduction of $450 million when factoring in SSA’s inflationary costs.  This kind of cut would force the agency to freeze hiring, furlough employees, shutter additional field offices, or further restrict field office hours – leading to even longer wait times. 

Richtman called on Congressional appropriators to use funds freed up in the recent bipartisan budget deal to boost SSA funding.  The National Committee would like to see an appropriation of at least $560 million over the FY 2017 level of $12.482 billion.  This increase would help restore cuts made since 2010 and cover inflationary increases in operating costs.  Richtman says a similar boost should be included in the FY 2019 appropriations bill, so that when a leader is appointed and confirmed, he or she will have adequate resources to turn the agency around.

“We want that confirmed Commissioner to have the all the resources he or she needs to conquer the customer service issues currently plaguing SSA.” – Max Richtman, 3/7/18

 Read Max's full testimony here

Lifting Social Security Payroll Tax Cap Would be a Valentine to Seniors

This Valentine’s Day marks the date when Americans with wages exceeding $1 million stop paying into Social Security for the year.  That’s because anyone earning at least that much hits the Social Security payroll tax cap of $128,400, barely seven weeks into 2018.  In stark contrast, the average American worker contributes payroll taxes throughout the year.  

“This red letter day takes on added significance because of the need to address the long-term solvency of Social Security and a political climate where seniors’ earned benefits are under constant threat.” - Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

The payroll tax cap prevents billions of additional dollars from flowing into the Social Security Trust fund, which is projected to be able to pay about 80% of benefits beginning in 2034 if Congress takes no action. While some on the political right have advocated cutting benefits and raising the retirement age to address the shortfall, the National Committee believes that benefits should be boosted and the program’s solvency strengthened by lifting the payroll tax cap – so that millionaires pay their fair share. 

"Normal Americans pay social security tax on every cent of income they earn throughout their entire lives, but millionaires like me pay it on just a fraction of our earnings. By raising the cap on payroll taxes, we can guarantee that millionaires pay the same rate as everyone else, and we can ensure that our seniors live and retire in dignity." - Morris Pearl, Chair of Patriotic Millionaires 
"Instead of providing massive tax cuts to the richest one percent, we should be making them pay their fair share by scrapping the cap.  America is facing a retirement crisis, and by scrapping by the cap, we can ensure fully-funded Social Security benefits for all generations to come." - Frank Clemente, Executive Director, Americans for Tax Fairness,
Raising the payroll tax cap needn’t be an elusive goal.  There is already legislation in Congress to do just that.  Senator Bernie Sanders’ Social Security Expansion Act would subject earned income over $250,000 to the Social Security payroll tax. Congressman John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act would apply the payroll tax to wages above $400,000, then phase out the cap altogether.  Both bills would modestly increase Social Security benefits and keep the system solvent for most of this century.
Perhaps someday – I hope very soon – we will not have to mark this day in mid-February that represents such a gross disparity in what working Americans and the wealthy contribute to Social Security.” - Max Richtman.

 For a more detailed analysis of the President's 2019 budget, click here

Trump 2019 Budget Shortchanges Seniors, Poor, Disabled

President Trump released an FY 2019 budget today proposing deep spending reductions for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and myriad other federal programs that help older Americans, the poor, and people with disabilities.

“This budget once again lays bare the Trump administration’s terribly misguided priorities.  In the wake of massive tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations, President Trump proposes to slash programs that help retirees and working Americans attain proper medical care and make ends meet.  Not only is this budget callous toward society’s most vulnerable, it breaks explicit promises that candidate Trump made to the American people ‘not to touch’ Medicare and Medicaid.” -  Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. 

Here are some of the highlights (or lowlights) of the President’s proposed FY 2019 budget that impact society’s most vulnerable:

*Some $500 billion in Medicare spending reductions over ten years, most of which would affect providers and suppliers, but could potentially impact beneficiaries, too.

*$1.4 trillion in cuts to Medicaid (which covers long-term care for millions of seniors).   

*Some $700 billion in spending reductions from “repealing and replacing Obamacare.”

*$64 million in cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

*Reduces the Social Security Administration’s request for administrative funding by $90 million from FY 2017 levels, which would further exacerbate SSA's customer service issues.

*Defunds the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low income seniors pay their heating bills.

In stark contrast to the Trump budget, Congress last week struck a bipartisan deal to lift spending caps on non-defense discretionary spending, making billions of dollars available to many of the domestic programs that the White House proposes to cut. 

“We strongly favor the bipartisan budget agreement in Congress, which recognizes the real and growing needs of working class Americans. To the extent that the president’s budget is mostly a ‘messaging document,’ we roundly reject the administration’s message that federal taxation and spending policy should favor the wealthy and powerful --- at the expense of the elderly, poor, and the disabled.” - Max Richtman
Click here for a more detailed analysis of the President's 2019 budget.

Bipartisan Budget Bill a Pretty Good Deal for Seniors

The bipartisan budget bill passed by Congress early this morning is, on balance, good news for seniors and the federal programs that provide them with financial and health security. 

“Seniors will feel these changes in their pocketbooks and even in the way they feel physically. We have been fighting for these measures for quite some time and are happy to see Congress take action on a bipartisan basis.” - Max Richtman, National Committee president 

On the positive side, the budget bill:

*Closes Medicare Part D “donut hole” in 2019.  The prescription drug coverage gap embedded in the original law, which the Affordable Care Act has been gradually closing, will be altogether eliminated one year early. This will save seniors thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.

*Repeals Medicare therapy caps.  The bill scraps arbitrary caps on physical, speech, language and occupational therapies that have cost seniors money – or delayed care at crucial times.  Beneficiaries will now find it easier – and more affordable – to get the therapies they need without undue interruption. 

*Lifts non-defense domestic spending caps, allowing Congress to appropriate more adequate funding for the Social Security Administration’s operating budget. The SSA has suffered from draconian budget cuts since 2011 which have impinged on customer service, even as 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day.  This badly-needed (but yet unspecified) higher level of funding should allow SSA to improve customer service for the program’s 67 million beneficiaries.

On the negative side, the bill increases Medicare premiums for some individuals by further expanding Medicare means-testing. 

“Congress continues to expand Medicare means-testing, and they will not stop until middle-class seniors are burdened with higher Medicare premiums.” - Max Richtman.

Here is a more detailed summary of the budget bill’s implications for seniors. 

For more on this story, view our Behind the Headlines broadcast live from Capitol Hill here

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