Social Security and Medicare Spared – For Now – In Debt Ceiling Deal

August 05, 2011

Social Security and Medicare escaped a first round of budget cuts in the debt ceiling agreement reached earlier this week in Washington, but future threats loom on the horizon for these two programs. The agreement, which became law on Tuesday, extends government borrowing power into 2013, immediately cuts $400 billion in spending, and cuts $1 trillion in discretionary spending by 2021. Prior to the vote, Alliance members sent nearly 5000 e-mails to Washington, urging lawmakers to not cut Social Security or Medicare.  Medicaid also escaped cuts.

Troubling, however, is that the new law creates a so-called “Super Committee” on Capitol Hill to find an additional $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by Thanksgiving.  Media accounts have suggested that Social Security and Medicare could be top targets for this new panel, including lower Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs), an increase in the Medicare eligibility age, and higher Medicare co-pays and premiums.  The 12 members of this panel are expected to be named in the coming weeks.  If the committee cannot reach an agreement – which would have to be approved, without amendment, by Congress and signed by the President – a “trigger” mechanism in the new law would automatically cut $1.2 trillion from federal agency budgets.  Social Security and Medicare benefits would be exempt; however Medicare reimbursements to medical providers would be cut.

“Even though we averted a government default, and no Social Security payments were delayed, retirees should not think that this crisis is over.  We need to keep a close, wary eye on this new congressional panel.  We cannot allow those who have never liked Social Security or Medicare to use this budget climate as political cover for attacks on programs that help millions of Americans,” said Alliance President Barbara J. Easterling.

Immediately after the agreement was reached, Alliance state and national leaders held a conference call to plot strategy for the next round in this debate.  On Tuesday, Easterling and Alliance Executive Director Edward F. Coyle joined labor leaders at the White House for a private meeting with President Obama, discussing issues important to workers and retirees.  Thursday, Maryland/DC Alliance members hosted U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), a member of both the Senate Finance and Budget committees, at a senior center.  Today, Arizona Alliance members are meeting with U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  Easterling will discuss the debt deal with Virginia AFL-CIO members tomorrow, urging them to form a Virginia chapter for the Alliance.  Earlier this week Alliance President Emeritus George J. Kourpias gave an update to Machinists Union members.

Just one day after the debt ceiling agreement became law, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) gave an early indication of the direction the House leadership would like the “Super Committee” to take.  Cantor told the Wall Street Journal that our nation needs to, “come to grips with the fact that promises have been made that, frankly, are not going to be kept for many.”

September Legislative Conference to Focus on Next Round of Budget Fight
The Alliance’s 10th Anniversary and Legislative Conference, September 6-9 in Washington, will focus on the upcoming “Super Committee” debates in Congress.  We will talk with key Social Security experts, hold workshops on lobbying, organizing, and communications skills, and spend a day visiting lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  Speakers at the conference include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Senator Bernie Sanders. For more information, please call Joni Jones at 202-637-5377 or e-mail jjones@retiredamericans.org. On the web, visit http://bit.ly/pjVbXy or http://bit.ly/hQro1V

Make Your Voice Heard: Upcoming Social Security Events, Letters to the Editor
Alliance state chapters around the country will begin mobilizing around the “Super Committee” with events this month to mark Social Security’s 76th birthday.  To find an event near you, e-mail ARAorganizing@RetiredAmericans.org. Also, with federal spending so prominent in the news, please write your local newspaper to give your opinion about Social Security and Medicare.  If your letter is published, let us know at Letters@RetiredAmericans.org and we will send you a free, U.S. union- made “Retirees With the Write Stuff” pen.

Florida Governor Chooses Politics Over Seniors’ Health Care Needs
The New York Times reported this week that Florida Governor Rick Scott has refused millions of dollars in federal health care grants because of his opposition to the 2010 health reform law.  Scott, a Republican, has turned down nearly $30 million in aid, including $8.3 million for a community health center, $4.2 million for moving long term care patients out of nursing homes, and $2 million for enrolling eligible Medicare recipients.  This occurs against the backdrop of the state’s $3.6 billion budget gap and an unemployment rate of 10.6%. “It’s a shame that while residents of Florida are struggling to pay their medical bills, our governor is playing politics and rejecting help for seniors,” said Tony Fransetta, President of the Florida Alliance For Retired Americans.  View the article at: http://nyti.ms/qyGT7w.

Pat Boone Sings the Industry Tune
Pat Boone, top-selling singer in the 1950s and 1960s, has reinvented his career, returning to the stage to promote Republican political candidates and serve as the official spokesperson for the 60 Plus Association, a group with ties to the health care industry and conservative political causes.  This week’s Politico noted that Boone, a frequent Fox News guest, owes his political effectiveness to “his down-home familiarity to a wide swath of the senior electorate.”

Earlier this year Boone called Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare and cut Medicaid support for nursing homes, “bold” and “thoughtful and responsible.”  In the 2010 congressional elections, Boone recorded phone messages for 90 GOP candidates, reaching over 7 million senior households.  “Our generation grew up with the sweet songs of Pat Boone, but now he is badly out of tune with millions of retirees who are struggling to get by.  Seniors need to know the truth, and not be swayed by our celebrity culture,” said Alliance Secretary-Treasurer Ruben Burks.

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