Budget Agreement Averts a Shutdown, but More Work Remains

December 13, 2013

On Thursday, the House voted 332-94 to approve a two-year budget deal crafted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The legislation won the support of 169 Republicans as well as 163 Democrats, and now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to pass next week. President Obama has signaled that he would sign the bill into law. For a tally of the House vote, go to http://tinyurl.com/lwcah9f.

The agreement will not cut earned Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. However, it missed a key opportunity to close tax loopholes used by corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. It also makes federal workers pay more for their pension benefits and cuts veterans’ and military retirees’ pensions.  The Alliance issued a statement (http://tinyurl.com/ksr4dyn) that those cuts are particularly cruel considering the missed opportunity to generate more revenue. “Knowing that federal employees have received no pay increase the last three years makes $6 billion in increased retirement contributions for new federal employees even more difficult to accept,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

“There is an obvious benefit to avoiding a government shutdown, and Sen. Murray deserves credit for reaching a deal with Rep. Ryan, but sequestration cuts to services need to be repealed altogether - not just reduced and repackaged,” said Alliance Executive Director Richard Fiesta.

Added Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance, “Seniors care about more than just themselves. Unemployment benefits should be extended for those who need to work, but are still unable to find a job. Otherwise, at the end of December, federal unemployment benefits will expire for 1.3 million jobless workers.”


Alliance Takes Action on the Budget
All year, Alliance members and coalition partners have joined Americans across the country participating in rallies and forums to protest cuts in vital services to the middle class. State and national leaders met up in Pittsburgh last Friday, in advance of the Murray-Ryan agreement, to “Keep Social Security and Medicare off the federal budget chopping block.” Pennsylvania Alliance President Wayne Burton and State Senator Jim Ferlo were among the speakers.

Crowds of workers, families, and advocates also gathered in Greensboro, North Carolina and other cities this week, driving home the need to replace sequestration in its entirety with new revenues raised by closing corporate tax loopholes (http://bit.ly/19EH4ZV ). On Wednesday, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Alliance, Social Security Works, SEIU, Campaign for Community Change, and others held a press event on Capitol Hill to stress the need for progressive budget priorities which protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Alliance activists across the country then participated in a national call-in day yesterday, sending a strong message to their Senators, “Thanks for keeping Social Security and Medicare off the chopping block; we still need to close tax loopholes and protect the retirement security of federal workers and our veterans.”

Also on Thursday, a small delegation of protesters from the Ohio Alliance, AFGE, and ProgressOhio went to deliver a lump of coal to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) office in West Chester Twp. Their message echoed that of the Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and other state Alliance chapters. “Like many children, Boehner has cleaned up his act days before Christmas,” said Denise Gastesi, a representative of the group and ProgressOhio worker. “We are pleased that a bipartisan budget seems to be on the horizon that doesn’t touch Social Security or Medicare. However, we are disappointed that corporate tax loopholes remain in place.”


Petition to Eliminate the Unfair GPO and WEP Provisions of the Social Security Act

The Rhode Island Alliance reminds us that the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) penalize people who have dedicated their lives to public service. Approximately 25% of public service retirees were employed in jurisdictions that do not participate in Social Security. This includes many teachers, firefighters and police officers. For them, Congress considers a portion of their public pension benefit to be Social Security-equivalent. As a result, the Social Security benefits they might get as the spouse of a participating worker, or because they had once worked in Social Security-covered employment, are subject to these two offsets that can severely reduce and even eliminate the Social Security benefit that has been earned. You can sign a MoveOn.org petition urging Congress to enact legislation, H.R. 3118 and S. 896, to repeal the GPO and WEP from the Social Security Act, and further request that President Obama sign the legislation, at http://tinyurl.com/oy8eusb.


Third Way Think Tank Generates a Backlash within Democratic Party
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published last week (http://tinyurl.com/kpswz7z), Jon Cowam and Jim Kessler, the first and second in command at the centrist democratic Third Way think tank, wrote that Social Security is “exhibit A” of a “populist political and economic fantasy” being touted by newly elected Democratic leaders such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. The two elected officials, they said, are disregarding the program’s “undebatable solvency crisis.”

Social Security Works and others urged their members to call on their Congressional representatives to decry Third Way for its Wall Street ties. Many, including Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), spoke out against the editorial. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) later joined Schwartz. Yesterday, Maya Rhodan of Time wrote about it (http://tinyurl.com/ncfk2ln). She said that many view the op-ed as proof that, like their counterparts on the right, centrist Democrats are waging war against the more extreme members of their party. Rachel Maddow also spoke about the “liberals vs. Wall Street” topic this week on her MSNBC show. To view the clip, go to http://tinyurl.com/okqxr5e.


Come to the Alliance’s Convention, April 28 – May 1, 2014, at Bally's Hotel Las Vegas
Join us in Las Vegas as we sharpen our organizing and communication skills for the 2014 elections and beyond! We will elect national officers and also Community Board members. Questions? Contact Joni Jones at jjones@retiredamericans.org or 202-637-5377. Ready to register? Download a registration form at http://tinyurl.com/nqnz97a  or register on-line at http://tinyurl.com/prl8box.

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