Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins the presidency, American seniors will be better off if Democrats take control of the Senate. Since 2019, the Democratic-controlled House has served as a firewall against Trump’s efforts to defund, cut, and privatize Social Security and Medicare. But as long as Republicans control the Senate, legislation to protect and expand seniors’ earned benefits will remain in limbo. Under a Democratic majority, though, seniors would likely see real progress where their financial and health security are concerned.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (who aptly calls himself the “Grim Reaper”), has buried legislation that would have benefitted seniors — not to mention his refusal to take up last May’s House-passed COVID relief bill as the virus continues to ravage older Americans. The most glaring example is the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), which the House passed last December.
H.R. 3 would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription prices with Big Pharma, which would save the government and seniors nearly $350 billion in drug costs. The bill would also add dental, vision, and hearing benefits to traditional Medicare. It represents the biggest step forward in lowering seniors’ health care costs in a generation, but Mitch McConnell won’t bring it up for a vote.
Leader McConnell will not even allow a vote on the bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (introduced by Senators Grassley and Wyden). Grassley-Wyden doesn’t include Medicare drug price negotiation, but it would spare seniors some financial pain at the pharmacy counter and is far better than doing nothing.
If the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, which strengthened Medicare’s finances and included enhanced benefits for seniors (not to mention protecting older patients with pre-existing conditions), a Democratic House and Senate could replace or revise it. Needless to say, if Joe Biden wins, his progressive health care proposals would have a far better chance in a Senate under Democratic control.
Seniors would not only be physically healthier in this scenario, but financially better off, too. The House has been considering landmark legislation to strengthen and boost Social Security benefits. The Social Security 2100 Act, introduced by Rep. John Larson (D-CT), would keep the program financially healthy through the end of the century, while boosting benefits for all retirees. Joe Biden has already embraced many of the proposals in this bill and has his own plan to expand Social Security. The Democrats could effectively counter conservative proposals to cut (and privatize) the program.
A Democratic-controlled Senate could mitigate COVID’s deleterious effects on current and future retirees’ Social Security benefits. Under new leadership, the Senate could increase the paltry 1.3% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to 3% for 2021, which would be welcome news for older Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic and are forced to retire early — and for seniors already struggling to pay their bills. The Senate could also prevent workers born in 1960 (and possibly 1961, as well) from suffering a lifetime reduction in their future benefits caused by a COVID-related drop in average wages.
Mitch McConnell will continue to block progress for America’s seniors. A Democratic Senate would bulldoze McConnell’s wall of obstruction. Even President Trump, no friend to American seniors through his tampering with (and proposed cuts to) Social Security and Medicare, would likely feel pressure to work with a Democratic-controlled Senate if he wins re-election. It’s the only way (besides failed executive orders) that he could claim legislative success in a second term.
The Democrats only need to flip at least 3 seats in order to regain control of the Senate. Based on current polling, the odds are in their favor. The National Committee has endorsed several Democratic Senate candidates looking to unseat incumbent Republicans. (View our list of endorsed candidates for the 2020 cycle here.)
This isn’t about partisanship. It’s about choosing elected representatives who believe seniors deserve a genuine commitment to protecting their much-needed retirement and health benefits. It’s about electing those who will stand for protecting patients with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It’s about sending public servants to Capitol Hill who can enact a comprehensive federal response to the pandemic that current leadership has failed to produce. To ensure a safe and prosperous future, seniors and their families must vote wisely — and make sure their votes count.