Title: Rhode Island’s Freshman Congressman is Passionate About Protecting Seniors
Guest: Rep. Gabe Amo
Release Date:  4/25/24


Announcer:  It’s You Earned This, the Social Security and Medicare podcast, brought to you by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and now your host, Walter Gottlieb.

WALTER:  Rhode Island may be a small state, but its representatives in Congress have had an outsized impact on issues affecting seniors. Democratic Representative David Cicilline was one of them. And when he left office in 2023, he was replaced by 36-year-old Democrat Gabe Amo, a young lawmaker with a passion for helping older Americans. Our president, Max Richtman, talked to Representative Amo in this special episode of You Earned This. 

MAX:  Welcome, Congressman. It’s very good to see you. And thank you for doing this. We appreciate it very much. And I’m looking forward to meeting you in person in your office in a couple of weeks. 

REP. AMO:  Well, I’m looking forward to it, too, Max. And I’m grateful to be here with you and talking about a topic that’s really important to so many Americans of all ages. 

MAX:  Well, that’s great. So I know that you grew up with a mother who was a nurse, right? 

REP. AMO:  Yeah. 

MAX:  And you’ve said you spent a lot of time in those circumstances with her in nursing homes as a child. And I’m just wondering what kind of impression that history back then made on you and how it’s informed your views and your opinions about so many of the issues that we’re going to be talking about during this session. 

REP. AMO:  Well, context is everything. And for me, I am grateful that I’ve had the experience of being the son of a SEIU nursing home nurse here in Rhode Island. My early memories are of my mother studying at the Community College of Rhode Island to get her licensed practical nurse certificate, sitting in the cafeteria eating hash browns at the community college so that she could take up a career of supporting people as they transition to the different points in their lives. And our seniors are so valuable. And so when I think about doing my homework in the break rooms of nursing homes in Providence, in Rhode Island, in Pawtucket, I saw in so many instances a senior struggle to really deal with the burden of high health care costs. And those experiences drive my work to protect and expand Medicare and Social Security. 

MAX:  Well, I think your constituents are lucky that you bring that background, that experience, because it’s so valuable. And you’ve been a member of Congress for a number of months. 

REP. AMO:  Five months. 

MAX:  And I just wonder what you’re hearing from your constituents in Rhode Island about these programs, about the value, the importance of Social Security and Medicare in their own daily lives. 

REP. AMO:  Yeah, I hear about it because everybody is trying to make ends meet. Right? Rhode Island seniors, like seniors across the country, are living on fixed incomes to really manage the burden of prescription drugs, buying food, housing. I’ve seen and heard from so many about those challenges, but I’ve also heard optimism. Optimism for the historic investments of the Inflation Reduction Act, where we will see a cap on out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D participants. The thing I also hear about, and I’m sure this is probably a little niche for some folks, are the challenges with the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset in Social Security, which, as many folks will know, has unfairly reduced Social Security benefits for certain parts of the population due to the nature of their employment. And so it’s one of the reasons I’m a co-sponsor of the Social Security Fairness Act, again, to make sure that seniors, all seniors, have the financial security that they deserve. 

MAX:  We hear about the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset all over the country, so I’m not surprised you’re hearing about it. And thank you for co-sponsoring that bill. Let me ask you, on the other side of the coin, Republicans seem to be focused on cutting Social Security. And you know your colleagues that are members of the Republican Study Committee, and that’s about 80% of (House) Republicans, have a proposal that would raise the retirement age. It’s unclear what it would go to, but it definitely would raise and increase the retirement age — and means-test Social Security benefits, which really turns this earned benefit program into a welfare program. And I think that would dissipate so much of the support for the Social Security program. 

REP. AMO:  Yeah, and I want to underscore that earned benefit portion of it. People have been paying into this for a long time. And to pull the rug from underneath them is, well, look, frankly, it aligns with the current philosophy of Republicans, is that you’re on your own. They see Social Security as handouts. It’s not a handout. It’s hard-earned. And I’ll do everything I can to protect Social Security and make sure that we don’t go off the path of what are perceived novel ideas that are really just harmful to people as they settle into their golden years. 

MAX:  So let me ask you, you’re aware that the House Budget Committee reported out their plan, which included a fiscal commission to look at the deficit, including Social Security and Medicare. And I just wonder what is your thought about that? Why should seniors be concerned that this specter of a fiscal commission is out there? 

REP. AMO:  So what you don’t want to create is a context where a Republican driven fiscal commission is going to be used to exert a perception of bipartisan approach to cutting essential programs. We can’t cut our way to prosperity. We never have been able to. And this sometimes can be used as a Trojan horse for that type of behavior. So look, Republicans have a real option, right? Revenue has to be on the table. And if they were serious about decreasing the debt, serious about fiscal stability, they would make sure that corporations and the ultra-rich, and I say ultra-rich underscoring that I want people to do well, but we don’t need to be driven to create wealth in this country that doesn’t take into account that, you know, we have a system where everybody should pay their fair share, right? 

MAX:  What I think you are for, and you mentioned that one of the components of legislation that would bring more revenue into the program in a fair way, and that’s Congressman John Larson, your neighbor from Connecticut, his legislation, the Social Security 2100 Act. And I know you’re a co-sponsor, and I just would ask you to explain why you’re a co-sponsor, why you see the value in this approach to dealing with Social Security. 

REP. AMO:  Well, you know, it’s one of the first bills that I committed to co-sponsoring when I was running for this office, because it’s forward-looking, right? It is about, you know, obviously the year 2100 is in it, but it’s forward-looking in the sense that it thinks more broadly about what the program should look like, as I think strongly about, is expanding Social Security, making it a more powerful tool. That’s inclusive of increasing and changing the formula around cost-of-living adjustments. And then thinking more broadly about how caregivers can get credits to ensure that when they take time out of the workforce to care for people in their lives, and they’re not penalized because they ultimately deserve benefit in full as well. And so these changes, and a few others, will improve the quality of life for more than 110,000 Social Security recipients, just in Rhode Island alone, and millions across the country. So I’m proud to support it. 

MAX:  Well, and as you know, you mentioned caregivers, I’m sure you’re aware that most of these caregivers are women, and they’re the ones that leave the workforce to care for children, parent, maybe not even their own parent, but the spouse’s parent, and they’re the ones that are penalized by having reduced Social Security benefits. So the caregiver credit that you just mentioned is really a very important part of updating the Social Security program. 

We have been working for years to add a vision, dental, and hearing to the Medicare program. A lot of seniors, when they are about to go on Medicare, I’ve found, assume, well, we’re going to have coverage for vision, dental, and hearing, and they’re shocked to find out that they don’t. So I wonder, what are some of the priorities in your thinking when it comes to the future of the Medicare program? 

REP. AMO:  Well, look, I think we have started to make some progress. You know, I talked about the Inflation Reduction Act, you know, what we’re able to do around negotiation of prescription drugs, capping the cost of insulin at $35, which is just lifesaving in so many ways, and the capping of out-of-pocket costs, right? In Rhode Island, for Medicare Part D recipients, that applies to 175,000 Medicare Part D recipients who are going to have their costs capped at $2,000 a year. So that’s progress, right? And Republicans weren’t with that at all. But look, these programs aren’t blue and red, and so we’ve got to go further in a lot of ways. And certainly when we talk about dental, vision, hearing, we all know that, you know, it’s father time, dictates that those things are going to be, and continue to be, vital components of seniors’ health, right, so we need to provide as comprehensive coverage as possible. 

MAX:  Well, I really appreciate your comments. Father time has been directly telling me about hearing aids, vision, dental, so I’m personally very well aware of these challenges. And you know, your colleagues now in the Congress, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressman Cicilline, your predecessor, they were key in getting the Inflation Reduction Act passed. You know, the pharmaceutical companies haven’t given up on opposing the negotiation ability of the government to negotiate. They’ve been fighting it in the courts, you know, on and off. So we need to continue being vigilant about that, and I know you will do that. So I wanted to end this session reading a quote of yours that was given to me the other day, and I want you to comment on that. And the quote from you is, “The pursuit of happiness does not disappear once you start receiving Social Security and Medicare. And it’s imperative that we provide all of Rhode Island’s seniors, and seniors around the country, with the right to age with dignity, joy, and comfort.” You said it about as well as I’ve heard it from anybody in public office. So as you pointed out, you’ve been there in the Congress for about five months. How are you feeling about all that? Are you idealistic, hopeful, encouraged? And do you feel that there will be, that we’re on the road to progress? We’ll stay on that road and not go backwards? 

REP. AMO:  Well, look, I ran for Congress because I do believe that tomorrow can be better than today. I’m an optimist. And, you know, I know that hope can’t exist in isolation. Hope requires action. And so in five months, I’ve seen there’s a lot of action we have to get going. But my belief is that these fights, they take a while, they require blood, sweat, tears. They require hard work, grit, resilience, and determination; but for that, nothing happens. So we have to push. When we think about what Presidents Roosevelt and President Johnson did, the legacy that they put forth… I’m going to fight tooth and nail to make sure we keep them the way they are. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure those my age and behind have access as well. It’s so needed in our country. So I’m grateful to have spent some time with you, Max, and I can’t wait for all the work that we will do together. 

MAX:  Well, I look forward to it, too. And let me just conclude by saying progress, in my opinion, requires commitment and eloquence that you have. And I’ve seen it in person, watched your campaign, and listened to you at this session. And I feel like we’re in good hands with the representation that you bring to the Congress. So thank you. And I, too, look forward to working with you going forward. And I’ll see you in person soon. 

REP. AMO:  Yeah, see you soon, Max. Thank you. 

MAX:  Thank you, thanks. 

WALTER:  And that was our President, Max Richtman, talking to freshman Representative Gabe Ammo of Rhode Island. To join our fight for Social Security, Medicare, and for seniors in general, visit ncpssm.org. That’s ncpssm.org. And click Join. I’m Walter Gottlieb. See you next time.