What can President-Elect Biden Achieve for America’s Seniors?
President-elect Joe Biden campaigned as a champion for older Americans. His election victory gives seniors new hope at a time when the incumbent President has put their lives — and their earned benefits — in jeopardy. That is why the National Committee broke with 38 years of precedent to endorse Joe Biden for President, after exclusively focusing on Congressional races in the past. National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman issued the following statement on Saturday congratulating President-elect Biden:
“Joe Biden’s victory in this historic election is a decisive win for the working class, for seniors, the disabled and their families — and a crucial victory for the two lifeline programs they depend on, Social Security and Medicare. National Committee members joined voters around the country to help elect a president who will defend, not defund, their earned benefits. They cast their ballots for the candidate who will protect their lives and livelihoods.”
“While Donald Trump tried to turn the clock back more than 80 years and undo the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Joe Biden will build on the progress of past decades toward a brighter future for working Americans and retirees. That is why the National Committee, founded by President Roosevelt’s son, Congressman James Roosevelt, Sr., endorsed Joe Biden for President.” – Max Richtman, president and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
As we do every election cycle, the National Committee also endorsed scores of seniors’ champions for House and Senate. While Democrats maintained their majority in the House, control of the Senate now hinges on the outcome of two runoffs in Georgia on January 5, 2021. Those results will also determine how much of Joe Biden’s plan for older Americans can actually be enacted. We asked the National Committee’s director of government relations and policy, Dan Adcock, about the likely outcomes for seniors.
Is Biden’s victory a victory for older Americans?
Dan Adcock: Biden clearly is going to be a president who will protect Social Security and Medicare, and is inclined to support making benefit improvements and strengthening the solvency of both programs. With Joe Biden in the White House, Republicans are unlikely to be able to move forward with “entitlement reform,” which really means cutting benefits. So Joe Biden can serve as a firewall against harmful changes to Social Security and Medicare while pushing to expand both programs. Most importantly, we no longer will have a president intent on cutting the social insurance safety net.
What becomes of Trump’s payroll tax deferral?
Dan Adcock: I think the payroll tax deferral is a dead letter with Trump on his way out. Even if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, GOP leaders do not seem to support payroll tax cuts. Senator Chuck Grassley, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he was opposed to the President’s payroll tax deferral. Then there is the issue of whether employees who received a payroll tax deferral will have to repay the government in 2021. We would be inclined to say that those payroll taxes should be forgiven, that Social Security be reimbursed for the lost funds through general revenue, though we generally do not favor using general funds for Social Security as it undermines the earned benefit nature of the program.
What’s at stake for seniors in the upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs?
Dan Adcock: Older Americans have a lot at stake in the Georgia runoffs, as control of the Senate rests on these two races: Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) vs. Kelly Loeffler (R), and John Ossoff (D) vs. Sen. David Perdue (R). With a Democratic Senate majority, President-elect Biden would have a much better chance of making good on his promises to expand and protect Social Security and Medicare, and to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, among other actions. Without a Democratic majority, it’s a much tougher climb, though Republicans may agree to modest measures for lowering drug costs, such as the Grassley-Wyden bill which includes price controls but no negotiation with Big Pharma.
Can President-elect Biden enact his health care agenda?
Dan Adcock: If the Supreme Court strikes down all or part of the Affordable Care Act, President-elect Biden will have a better chance to replace or fix strengthen it with a Democratic Senate. However, one would like to think that if the entire law is invalidated, including the provisions that improve Medicare, the Senate might go along with legislation that would restore those particular provisions – especially since Medicare is incredibly popular. The same might be said with protections for patients with pre-existing conditions. The rest of Biden’s health care agenda may be tough-going if Democrats don’t wrest back control of the Senate.
What is the impact of the election on Social Security?
Dan Adcock: Well, first of all, we will not have a president who promised to “terminate” the payroll taxes that fund Social Security, which would have bankrupted the program. Joe Biden calls Social Security a “sacred obligation” and has promised to strengthen and expand it. He wants to extend Social Security’s solvency by adjusting the payroll wage cap so that earners making over $400,000 begin paying into the system, in other words, paying their fair share. He also wants to adopt a more accurate formula for calculating cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). Again, these improvements are much more likely to be enacted if Democrats take control of the Senate. Short of that, Biden may have a difficult time getting them through. Of course, we will continue to advocate for these improvements on behalf of our members and supporters regardless of who wins the Senate majority.
What can President-elect Biden do for seniors through executive action?
Dan Adcock: Biden can reverse Trump administration rules aimed at making it more difficult for people with disabilities to continue claiming Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The President-elect can also reverse President Trump’s attempts to politicize the adjudication process for disability benefits by sidelining administrative law judges in favor of political appointees. Another important measure that President-elect Biden could take is rewriting rules so that Social Security beneficiaries who received accidental overpayments during the pandemic can keep those benefits, given the dire circumstances that COVID has inflicted on seniors. The Biden administration also is unlikely to continue the Trump team’s promotion of for-profit Medicare Advantage (MA) plans over traditional Medicare – a pattern that we have seen during the past four years of steering enrollees toward MA. Finally, we almost certainly won’t see the President-elect submitting budgets proposing to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal programs that provide the elderly with nutrition, work and volunteer opportunities, and assistance heating their homes in the winter.
Follow developments affecting seniors during the Lame Duck period of the U.S. Congress and the presidency on our new Lame Duck Session webpage.