As we approach Social Security’s 83rd anniversary this mid-term election year, what better time to remind candidates for House and Senate about the program’s immense contribution to the economy? Every year, Social Security pays out more than $800 billion in benefits to some 57 million Americans, who spend that money in their communities – providing economic stimulus on the local, state, and national levels. With the elections less than 90 days away, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has updated our state-by-state snapshots, revealing how much revenue Social Security contributes to the economy of every Congressional District in each state.
“Social Security has a very big footprint in Congressional districts across the country, which is a tremendous benefit not only for beneficiaries, but for entire communities,” says Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee.
“In the face of clear evidence of Social Security’s effectiveness, conservatives want to cut and privatize the program. Candidates in this year’s mid-term elections must ask themselves whether their communities can afford to lose billions of dollars in economic stimulus – not to mention the baseline financial security that these earned benefits provide retirees and their families. The answer for anyone who seeks to represent the people should be a resounding ‘No.’” – Max Richtman, president and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
The Congressional Democrats’ 2018 “For the People” agenda includes a strong commitment to strengthening and expanding Social Security, instead of benefitcuts and privatization. “With the passage of massive tax giveaways to billionaires, Washington Republicans just ushered in an era of $1 trillion deficits – and now they’re openly talking about slashing Social Security and Medicare to pay for it,” says Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
“Republicans had their chance to lead, instead they proved that they’re for the special interests. Democrats respect the years of hard work seniors put in on the job earning a secure retirement. Instead of turning millionaires into billionaires on the backs of our seniors, we should be working together to protect Social Security and Medicare for the American people.” – Rep. Cheri Bustos, co-chair, Democratic Policy and Communications Committee
Democratic lawmakers have already introduced legislation to keep Social Security solvent for decades while boosting benefits, including Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which raises the payroll wage cap so the wealthy pay their fair share. These bills have languished under GOP leadership, but could win passage if voters send enough Social Security champions to Congress.
In pivotal races across the country, candidates’ true positions on Social Security should be a crucial consideration for voters. In Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional district, where ironworker and Social Security champion Randy Bryce is running for retiring Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat, residents receive $2.5 billion in benefits every year. Colorado’s 6th district Congressional race pits incumbent Mike Coffman, who once called Social Security a ‘Ponzi scheme,’ against challenger Jason Crow, whose “protecting Colorado’s seniors” includes robust support for Social Security. There, $1.7 billion in Social Security benefits for nearly 100,000 6th district residents is at stake. Or consider the crucial Florida Senate race, where Republican candidate Rick Scott has appeared sympathetic to the idea of privatizing Social Security while incumbent Bill Nelson has been a rock solid defender of the program. Residents of the Sunshine State receive a whopping $78 billion cash injection from Social Security every year.
Seniors, who made up 21% of the electorate in the 2016 elections, wield significant power at the ballot box – and could help determine the fate of Social Security for current and future retirees and the communities in which they live. “In swing districts in 2018, seniors may represent up to 33% of the vote,” says pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners.
“There will be no blue tide if we ignore seniors and near-seniors. And Democrats have powerful messages for them on preventing cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and lowering prescriptions drug prices.” – Celinda Lake, president, Lake Research Associates
Now is the time for candidates – and voters – to recognize that Social Security is not only an economic stimulus, but an economic stabilizer, as well. During economic downturns when revenues and incomes generally decline, Social Security continues paying benefits – providing baseline stability for national, state, and local economies. Nothing less than the future of Social Security and the economic benefits it brings is at stake in November’s elections. The data doesn’t lie.
Medicare supporters in Congress typically celebrate the program’s anniversary with cake and balloons. But not this year. Democratic leaders decided that the 53rd anniversary of Medicare (and Medicaid) was an occasion for solemnity. Slices of birthday cake were replaced by protestations about the program’s future under Republican rule – highlighting exactly what’s at stake in November’s elections.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare (and Medicaid) into law on July 30th, 1965. To mark the anniversary, members of Congress, advocates, and ten yellow t-shirted volunteers from the National Committee’s Capital Action Team (CATs) gathered in the stately Rayburn Room of the Capitol last Wednesday, July 25th, just before summer recess.
Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), David Cicilline (D-RI), and Doris Matsui (D-CA) excoriated the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans for betraying the promise of Medicare, which President Johnson articulated at the signing ceremony 53 years ago:
“No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime. No longer will young families see their own incomes and hopes eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson, 7/30/65
Former President Harry Truman, who first tried to enact a health care program for the elderly in the 1940s, was the first official Medicare beneficiary. Since 1965, Medicare has provided health security to several generations of American seniors. Medicare beneficiary (and National Committee volunteer) Patricia Cotton took to the podium at the Capitol to deliver a powerful personal testimonial for the program:
“I have Myelofibrosis. It’s a blood cancer. My cancer meds started at $10,000 every 30 days and have gone up twice in two years. Cancer meds are very expensive. My Medicare Part B and D premiums have gone up, and that is coming out of my Social Security check. That is why, without Medicare and Social Security, the rich will live and the poor will die.” – Patricia Cotton, Medicare beneficiary, 7/25/18
Cotton questioned why conservatives continue to target seniors’ modest benefits while at the same time corporations and the wealthiest Americans get trillions in tax breaks. “Medicare is not the problem, our messed up fiscal priorities are,” she said.
*$537 billion in Medicare cuts
*$1.5 trillion from Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act
*Privatization of Medicare using vouchers (“coupon care”).
*Raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67
*Repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which covers millions of older Americans on the threshold of Medicare.
This tracks closely with President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, which breaks his campaign promise “not to touch” Medicare – along with Social Security and Medicaid, two other targets of the Republican spending proposals.
Medicare – a signature achievement of Johnson’s Great Society – has always been in the right wing’s sights, but even more so in the wake of the Trump/GOP tax scam (enacted on December 22, 2017), which opens a nearly $2 trillion hole in the federal debt. The ink on the tax scam was barely dry when conservatives from Senator Marco Rubio to Speaker Paul Ryan declared that Americans’ earned benefits would have to be cut to pay for it.
“We can’t let December 22, 2017 be the date that led to the erosion of a national treasure, Medicare.” – Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), 7/25/18
Insisting that it isn’t fair for elderly beneficiaries to cover the cost of tax breaks for the wealthy and profitable corporations, Rep. Matsui pledged that Democrats will continue the fight for Medicare (as well as Medicaid and Social Security) against the onslaught from the political right.
“We must recommit to defending Medicare against constant cuts and sabotage.” – Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), 7/25/18
The representatives also pledged to continue the struggle to allow Medicare to “negotiate like crazy” with Big Pharma for lower prescription drug prices, dinging the Trump administration for being all talk and little action on this front.
“Democrats believe that seniors shouldn’t have to cut pills in half to afford prescription drugs. We need a president who will work with us to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, to compel drug makers to justify cost increases, and to crack down on price gougers.” – Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), 7/25/18
With a rallying cry of putting working Americans before the interests of the “wealthy and well-connected,” speakers at the anniversary pledged that, if Democrats prevail on protecting Medicare, the cake and balloons may return next year. As Rep. Schakowsky put it, “Hopefully, we will be able to celebrate, knowing these benefits are safe and secure.”
The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security heard testimony today about the Trump administration’s new executive order affecting the selection of administrative law judges (ALJs). The National Committee has come out strongly against the executive order, which could lead to the politicization of the roughly 1,700 ALJs who decide Social Security disability claims.
The president’s executive order changes the selection of ALJs from a merit-based system to a political one, compromising their judicial independence and undermining due process for people with disabilities. National Committee President and CEO Max Richtman issued the following warning today:
“The Trump administration will likely appoint judges who share its hostility to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Appointing judges who are biased against SSDI is yet another way to cut disabled Americans’ benefits. Claimants are entitled to have their cases adjudicated by neutral, fair-minded judges.” – Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
As a co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Social Security Task Force, the National Committee contributed to testimony given to Congress today by fellow co-chair Lisa Ekman of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR).
“ALJs hired through a politicized process are likely to be less independent from political pressure. These newly hired ALJs might feel compelled to decide matters before them in a manner preferred by the appointing agency, rather than in a neutral way that best applies the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act.” – Testimony of Lisa Ekman, Co-Chair, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force
As we wrote in a post last week, politically-appointed ALJs could reject valid disability claims simply because the administration doesn’t support the program. The president’s 2019 budget would slash SSDI by $64 billion over ten years. His budget director, Mick Mulvaney, famously said last year that he doesn’t consider SSDI to be part of Social Security even though “Social Security” is part of its name.
According to the CCD testimony, the Social Security Administration has yet to create policies for hiring ALJs under the new executive order. As it now stands, the only qualification for these politically appointed ALJs is that they have passed the bar – an astonishingly low threshold for judges who will decide the fates of millions of disabled workers.
“We do not know what if any additional qualifications will be required or whether knowledge of the administrative process and litigation/hearing experience will continue to be required for newly hired ALJs under this new hiring authority. The Task Force urges SSA to put in place hiring procedures that protect the independence of ALJs and continue to require newly hired ALJs to have knowledge and experience that qualify them to make these decisions of critical importance to people with disabilities.” – Testimony of Lisa Ekman, Co-Chair, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force
The past week’s news proves that if the Trump administration isn’t able to undermine Americans’ earned benefits in one way, it will find another. That’s exactly what happened when the president issued an executive order changing the way federal administrative law judges (ALJs) are selected. What sounds like an inside Washington procedural issue will affect millions of Social Security disability claimants and their families.
Most of the government’s 1,900 ALJs are assigned to adjudicate Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims. President Trump has loosened the standards for appointing ALJs in a manner that makes it easier for the administration to appoint less qualified, but more politically loyal judges. As the Washington Post explains:
“[ALJs] would be selected by agency heads without first being vetted by the Office of Personnel Management as was the procedure. That makes the process more vulnerable to politicization.” – Washington Post.
The president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges told the news site Government Executive that the executive order is a blatant attempt to politicize the civil service that will hurt disabled Americans:
“They could hire candidates who have a certain view of claims under the disability provisions of the Social Security Act, and that the view perhaps would be that claims ought to be denied . . . If I were an American citizen, I would be very concerned that I am no longer guaranteed an independent, impartial administrative law judge to adjudicate my claim against a federal agency.” – Marilyn Zahm, AALJ president.
Those politically-appointed judges could reject valid disability claims simply because the administration doesn’t support the program. The president’s 2019 budget would slash SSDI by $64 billion over ten years. His budget director, Mick Mulvaney, famously said last year that he doesn’t consider SSDI to be part of Social Security even though “Social Security” is part of its name.
Add into the mix the fact that Republicans cut the Social Security Administration’s operating budget by 10% (adjusted for inflation) between 2010 and 2017, forcing the agency to cutback customer service to claimants. In combination, these attacks on SSDI amount to a blatant reversal of candidate Trump’s promise “not to touch” Social Security.
The Trump administration cited a Supreme Court decision, Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which moved ALJs at the SEC out of the purview of the Office of Personnel Management and into the realm of political appointments, to justify the new rule. But the Supreme Court decision did not require the administration to politicize the appointment of Social Security ALJs, making the executive order a clear case of overreach on Trump’s part.
Reversing the executive order by law would require congressional action. House Democrats Bobby Scott (D-VA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and David Cicilline (D-RI immediately registered concern about the Trump administration’s rule:
“When Americans bring disputes before the federal government – whether it’s related to workplace discrimination activities, or eligibility for Social Security or Medicare benefits – they are entitled to have their cases heard by impartial ALJ’s.” – Reps. Scott, Cummings, and Cicilline.
The Congressmen offered an amendment to the Office of Personnel Management appropriations bill that would have defunded the president’s executive order, but were slapped down by Republicans on the House Rules committee.
Now, the House Social Security subcommittee is scrutinizing the new ALJ rule. The subcommittee will hold hearings next week featuring testimony from acting Social Security commissioner Nancy Berryhill. A representative of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives may also testify.
Meanwhile, advocacy groups are considering challenging the legality of the ALJ Executive Order in U.S. District Court.
Senator Marco Rubio’s proposal to fund paid family leave by cutting participants’ future Social Security benefits is nothing less than a Trojan Horse to undermine Social Security – and lays the groundwork for further damage to the program. Social Security is not a piggy bank or ATM to be used for other programs, no matter how commendable.
“Our Social Security system is a foundation of economic security for workers and their families in the event of a worker’s retirement, disability or death. While we believe that expanding access to paid parental leave is important for all workers, we oppose legislation that would finance it by cutting future Social Security benefits.” – Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
Senator Rubio’s proposal would weaken Social Security’s long-term financial health. Caregivers taking their retirement benefits in advance as paid family leave may never be able to reimburse Social Security due to premature death or disability. Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin estimates that Senator Rubio’s program would cost Social Security $10.5 billion in the first year and $227 billion over ten years.
Social Security already helps millions of younger working-age families (approximately 16 million beneficiaries) through disability, dependents’ and survivors’ benefits. The truth is that this family leave proposal from Senator Rubio, an outspoken advocate of “entitlement reform” (code for cutting earned benefits), is – at its core – a benefit cut for future retirees and their families.
Workers who take time off to care for children and other family members should not have to sacrifice their hard-earned Social Security benefits later in life. Senator Rubio’s proposal is especially harmful to women, who make up the majority of family caregivers in the United States today. Women can ill afford to take a financial hit during retirement when their average Social Security benefits are already lower than men’s.
“Authors Melissa Favreault and Richard Johnson calculate that parents who take leave would have to delay collecting Social Security for twice the period for which they took leave — to repay 12 weeks of leave, they would have to delay their retirement benefits by 20 to 25 weeks. But delaying Social Security translates into a real financial loss; the authors reckon that parents who took a single 12-week leave would lose about 3% of their future retirement benefits, and those who took four leaves would lose 10%.” – Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times
Author Richard Johnson told Hiltzik, “If we let people borrow against Social Security, that adds to the precariousness of the retirement system.” Johnson warned that the proposed change to Social Security could lead to Americans viewing the program as a savings account rather than income insurance, opening the door to GOP attempts to privatize it.
In a July 10th letter to the Senate Finance Social Security subcommittee, National Committee president Max Richtman implored Senators to reject Rubio’s proposal:
“Since the inception of the program, Americans have regarded their contributions to Social Security as sacrosanct and available only for Social Security. The National Committee believes it should stay that way, and therefore urges you to oppose any legislation that relies on Social Security as a means for financing a program of paid family leave.” – Max Richtman’s letter to the Senate Social Security subcommittee
Read the full letter to the Senate committee here.