What’s good and bad for seniors in the current spending deal on Capitol Hill? Our director of government relations and policy, Dan Adcock, tells us about how crucial programs for older Americans may fare for the rest of this fiscal year — and the latest on Republican plans for a fiscal commission that we fiercely oppose.

Q:  Tell us about the deal on Capitol Hill that may avert a government shutdown — and how it might impact seniors.

Adcock: There seems to be a deal for an appropriations bill for FY 2024, which we’re already in by the way.  It sounds like there’s finally been an agreement between key House and Senate negotiators on how much each of the appropriation committees will get to spend.  These appropriations measures will probably be brought to the floor in bundles… making progress toward meeting the March 1 deadline for nailing down spending for military and veterans affairs — and March 8 for everything else, including most of the funding affecting seniors (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Older Americans Act programs).  

Q: Are we happy with this deal? 

Adcock: The deal basically means that the government likely won’t shut down, which is good news for everyone.  And even though the FY 2024 budget is going to be fairly austere, funding for the programs we care about is going to be a lot better than it could have been. Originally, Republicans wanted flat funding for everything, and wanted to put any surplus funds toward deficit reduction rather than spending it on programs that help everyday people.

Q: How does this deal compare to previous spending agreements between the GOP and Democrats?

Adcock: This new deal is fairly close to the debt limit agreement between President Biden and congressional Republicans last year. It limits non-defense spending to FY 2023 levels, but claws back some money (including surplus Covid money and funding that was supposed to go to the IRS for greater enforcement) that can be put toward domestic priorities. 

Q: We have been banging the drum that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been grossly underfunded and needs an infusion of money for operations. What does this deal portend for SSA funding?

Adcock: Unfortunately, SSA is likely to be flat funded in FY 2024, which means the agency will continue to have to make due with insufficient resources for yet another year.  But it’s not going to be as bad as if Republicans got their wishes. Relatively flat-funding will prevent SSA from radically improving wait times for customer service and may force further cutbacks, including additional field office closures.

Q: Is there anything to be done to get SSA more funding during this fiscal year? 

Adcock: We are hoping for a separate piece of legislation like a supplemental appropriations bill that could include extra money for SSA that it won’t receive through the regular appropriations process. The President may ask for more funding for SSA in his FY 2025 budget, but he cannot submit a new budget until FY 2024 appropriations have been enacted. 

Q:  House Republicans are pushing for a fiscal commission (which we fiercely oppose) that could end up recommending cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Where does that stand right now? 

Adcock: That’s still something that could still be included in a final spending deal.  As a freestanding bill, it couldn’t get 60 votes in order to pass the Senate. But if a fiscal commission was inserted  into the final spending deal, then it could pass along with everything else. 

Q: Would Democrats vote for a spending pill that contains the ‘poison pill’ of a fiscal commission?

Adcock: They may accede to it. The thinking might go, “We’re not actually cutting anything by voting for this. So let the Republicans play their fiscal commission game and in the end it won’t matter.” But, in reality, it does matter. Because a fiscal commission’s recommendations could take on a life of their own.  We have opposed a fiscal commission from the very beginning because the process could end up in benefit cuts. It’s a Pandora’s box that’s better not to open.