Wisconsin’s budget stalemate over union bargaining rights shows no sign of resolution, and it could be a long wait, according to the Associated Press. Governor Scott Walker (R) isn’t budging; Democrats in the state Senate who are gone are not planning to come back; and, despite talk of deadlines and threats of layoffs, the state doesn't have to pass a budget to pay its bills until at least May. Even then, there may be other options that could extend the standoff. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly last week after nearly three days of debate. Republicans in the Senate say they have enough votes to pass it once Democrats return.
"Raising the retirement age would inflict further hardship among a group of workers who are likely to face health and economic problems in their 60s." –Doug Hart, President, Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans
"Of all the lies and confusion that still surround the Affordable Care Act, perhaps the greatest is that it is bad for seniors." - Dave Meinell, President, Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans
"My father died when I was three. Because of Social Security (survivors) benefits, my Mom, my younger sister and I survived." – Diane Fleming, DC Alliance Member
"We fear that Congress will balance the budget on the backs of the 98 percent, which is working Montanans and retired Montanans. We simply cannot afford these devastating cuts to vital services such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," –John Forkan, President, Montana Alliance for Retired Americans
"Along with national parks and Social Security, Medicare is one of the best ideas we Americans have ever devised." -Tim Cunningham, New Mexico Alliance Member
"Seniors have earned and deserve their Social Security checks, and they shouldn't have to go to Congress every 10 years and beg for the program to be renewed." –James Parent, Alliance for Retired Americans Regional Board Member
"Today's retirees paid Medicare and Social Security taxes in every paycheck we ever earned. Now that we are retired, these programs help us to be able to stay healthy and pay our bills. They are the promise we make to people who worked hard all their lives, and we need to keep that promise for today’s workers." –Tony Fransetta, President, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans
"Today's seniors want to lower the budget deficit. We do not want a large debt to be the legacy we leave to future generations, but we should not punish people who have paid Social Security taxes all their lives." –Jim Moore, President, North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans
"Social Security should remain what it has been for 77 years – a solid, reliable way that generations of workers have been able to retire with dignity, economic security, and peace of mind." –Barbara J. Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans
"The fight for Social Security and Medicare is part of a larger fight for justice and fairness"—Barbara J. Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans
"The health insurance reform helps not just seniors, but also middle-class families and young Americans, who are just starting to see the benefits. Don’t let Republicans take all that away." –Don Rowen, President Emeritus, Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans
"Honoring the promise of Social Security and Medicare should not be a partisan issue. Honoring the contributions that we make throughout our working years so that we may feed and clothe ourselves, keep a roof over our heads and those of our family, there is no reason for that to be a hotly contested partisan issue." –Edward Coyle, Executive Director, Alliance for Retired Americans
"We need to make sure that people who need Social Security to make ends meet will have it, and not fall victim to ill-informed and unnecessary cuts to these vital programs."
–Barbara J. Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans
Alliance members across the country took part in events that showed support for their fellow union members this week, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) remained determined to end most of the collective bargaining rights held by public workers for decades. Across the industrial Midwest, Republicans are trying to roll back the powers of not just public-employee unions, but also the bargaining and dues-collecting power of groups that represent auto workers and carpenters. On Saturday, February 26, at noon local time, the group MoveOn.org is teaming with labor and their supporters to organize rallies in front of every statehouse in every major city to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin. To find an event near you, go to http://bit.ly/fApB1K. “State workers in Wisconsin are not alone in this fight,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “Retirees from coast to coast are with them every step of the way!”
On Monday, President Obama released his much-anticipated budget proposal for the 2012 fiscal year. While Republican leaders are calling for lower Social Security payments for seniors and an increase in the retirement age, the President upheld his commitment to retirees by leaving out cuts to Social Security. There are no proposed changes in the budget that would raise the retirement age; cut benefits or the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA); or raise the earnings cap subject to Social Security payroll taxes. The President’s budget proposes a one time $250 payment to Social Security beneficiaries and other retirees in lieu of the COLA, like last year's budget submission, but this provision was not enacted last time.
House Republicans are expected to bring their federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year up for a vote next week, and they have promised that it will contain $100 billion in cuts. While they have not fully disclosed which programs are on the chopping block, they have promised that they will add an amendment to the bill that will block Congressional funding for implementation of the health care law that the President signed last year. At a press conference on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters that “one way or the other” the House would produce a bill that blocks funding for the law. The amendment is expected to be added during the budget debate by Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT), the chairman of the House Appropriations panel that funds the Department of Health and Human Services. “We are truly disappointed that Republicans have continued to try and impede health care reform, especially since they have yet to offer a viable alternative,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.
On Wednesday, Republicans in the U.S. Senate tried to repeal the health care law, but the attempt was defeated, 51-47. All Democrats present voted to keep the law, while all Republicans present voted to repeal it. Two senators, Mark Warner (D-VA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), were not present for the day’s votes. Also on Wednesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly, 81-17, to strip a tax-reporting provision of the law that opponents say overburdens small business.
On Monday, a Florida judge ruled that the health care law places an unconstitutional requirement on Americans to buy health insurance. Now, two federal judges have struck at this key provision. The cases are almost certainly headed for the Supreme Court, which many predict will decide the law's fate by the spring of 2012, according to The Washington Post. Legal experts say it seems possible that the high court might strike down all or part of the law. Next, the two political parties will settle in for a year of smaller battles. Republicans in Congress will seek to deny the Obama administration the money it needs to implement parts of the law. Democrats believe Americans will become attached to the law’s provisions - including closing the doughnut hole gap in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage and free preventive screenings for seniors. The high court's decision, if it does get the final word, may turn on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often the swing vote.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said this week that the Florida judge’s ruling doesn't represent the “big picture" of the White House’s biggest domestic achievement. Durbin pointed out that Social Security, the minimum wage, and civil rights laws were also challenged but “survived.”
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With Social Security expected to be on the agenda, the Alliance held 46 State of the Union address “watch parties” on Tuesday in 21 states to educate retirees on key issues. In his remarks, President Obama said, “To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. And we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”
A Social Security letter from 30 state Alliance Presidents sent last week to Obama may have made a difference, since he also did not call for an increase in the retirement age. “While Tuesday night's speech was a success, the battle is far from over. Soon there will be contentious debates surrounding the president's Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal, Congress completing the Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations, and the raising of the federal debt limit. These will be heated battles, and it will be up to us to help retirees separate fact from fiction,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.
On Tuesday, January 25th, the President’s annual State of the Union Address will air nationally. When delivering his speech, President Obama may address critical retiree issues such as Social Security and Medicare. In the past, the President has supported the Alliance position on Social Security: no benefit cuts, no raising of the retirement age, no cuts in the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) and no privatization. Because this speech is so important, Alliance members will be hosting 38 State of the Union watch parties in 17 states. Go to http://bit.ly/eGhWjH for complete State of the Union information, and to find a party near you! If you are interested in hosting a watch party of your own, it is not too late. Please click on http://bit.ly/ezVRam for a handy toolkit, and contact firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know of your plans.
On Thursday, thirty state Alliance Presidents wrote a letter to President Obama, delivering the message directly that he has “the opportunity to renew the nation’s commitment to the Social Security program during the State of the Union Address,” and urging him to reject false claims that Social Security increases the federal budget deficit. To see the letter, go to http://bit.ly/dK1pBa. “Social Security did not create our nation’s fiscal problems, nor should it be used to fix them,” summarized Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. “The current debt situation should not be a political cover for attacking Social Security.”
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Doctors said on Thursday that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is making a miraculous recovery after being shot in the head in an assassination attempt that killed six and left 13 others wounded. According to USA Today, Giffords, 40, is opening her eyes, responding to commands, and moving both of her legs and arms. “Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has been a great friend to seniors,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. “Many Alliance members in Arizona know the congresswoman and her staff personally, and we wish her a full recovery. Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of those who did not make it, as well as all of those who are still recovering.” On September 28, 2010, Rep. Giffords introduced a resolution opposing any increase in the Social Security retirement age, noting that any increase in the age equates to an unfair decrease in benefits.
Among those who died in the horrible Tucson shooting of Rep. Giffords were three retirees: Dorothy Morris, 76; Phyllis Schneck, 79; and Dorwin Stoddard, 76. Also killed was Gabe Zimmerman, 30, who was the director of community outreach for Giffords and was engaged to be married. He handled thousands of issues raised by constituents out of the congresswoman’s offices in Tucson and Sierra Vista. Arizona Alliance President Doug Hart knew Zimmerman. “He just had a heart for people,” said Hart. “Everybody loved the guy, and that’s a hard thing for a young man to pull off with seniors. I remember telling him I’ve been married for 42 years and he said he hoped he could be married that long.” A fifth shooting victim who died, John Roll, 63, was named Arizona's chief federal judge in 2006. He had won acclaim for a career as a respected jurist and leader who had pushed to beef up the court's strained bench to handle a growing number of border crime-related cases. The youngest victim, Christina Taylor Green, was only 9.
“There is no place for violence in politics – or anywhere in a civilized society. As a nation, we must be sure that seniors are not deterred from meeting face-to-face with their elected officials due to fear, or due to proposed access restrictions that result from this crime,” Alliance Secretary-Treasurer Ruben Burks said.
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House Republicans are wasting no time trying to repeal health care reform. The new Congress convened on Wednesday, and the House Rules Committee met on Thursday to report a rule to repeal the health care law. The full House voted today 236-181, largely along party lines, to move ahead to next week's final vote, which is scheduled for Wednesday, January 12. The plan to repeal the health care reform law would increase the deficit by $230 billion by 2021, according to a preliminary analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. Because of the law, many important, positive changes to Medicare - such as free preventive screenings - went into effect on January 1. Those benefits, as well as a 50% discount for brand name drugs and 7% off generics for beneficiaries in the Part D doughnut hole, would disappear if the repeal were to become law. The doughnut hole is set to close entirely by 2020, but a repeal would change that. In addition, subsidies for early retiree health care would disappear. The 2010 law also extends the solvency of Medicare by 12 years. To see the Alliance fact sheet on 2011 Medicare changes, go to http://bit.ly/gesRSR.
It is expected that nearly all or all House Republicans will vote for the repeal legislation, H.R. 2, next week. However, Senate Democrats and grassroots organizations are pushing back. On Monday, the Senate Democratic Leadership – Sens. Harry Reid (NV), Dick Durbin (IL), Patty Murray (WA), Charles Schumer (NY) and Debbie Stabenow (MI) - wrote then soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and told him that repeal of health care reform will not occur in the Senate. The five Senate Democratic leaders asked the Ohio Republican in the letter to preserve the health care law or risk leaving seniors without expanded insurance coverage for prescription drugs that the law provides. In addition, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a coalition of 65 senior organizations, including the Alliance, sent a letter to all members of the House on Wednesday night urging a vote against repeal; to view that, go to http://bit.ly/dYFJNd. “Repeal would hurt retirees immediately,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “It would be a giant step backwards given all of the problems that were addressed by the 2010 health reform law.”
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The House on Thursday night voted on the $858 billion tax cut package negotiated by the White House and Republican leaders. Lawmakers in both parties expressed unhappiness with aspects of the package, but the House passed it 277-148 and sent it to the President for signature. On Wednesday, the Senate had overwhelmingly approved the measure by a vote of 81-19. Results of the House and Senate votes are available at http://bit.ly/fVJM4o and http://bit.ly/eBs1iS. According to The New York Times, many Democrats opposed provisions granting tax cuts to the highest earners, as well as an exemption for estates of up to $5 million per person, or $10 million per couple. However, Republicans said they would not accept any change. Another tax reduction, a one-year payroll tax cut, would lower from 6.2% to 4.2% the Social Security tax levied on income up to $106,800. The government would then borrow about $112 billion to make Social Security whole. Workers making $50,000 in wages would get a $1,000 tax cut; those making $100,000 would get a $2,000 cut. The deal would also extend unemployment benefits at their current level for 13 months, through the end of 2011. “Seniors worry – with good reason - that relying on borrowed money could eventually force the Social Security program to compete with other federal programs for scarce dollars, leading to cuts,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. Last Friday, the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, comprised of 250 organizations and representing more than 50 million members from many of the nation’s leading aging, labor, and civil rights organizations - including the Alliance - sent a letter to Congress regarding the Social Security payroll tax cut. The letter urged Congress to oppose the tax “holiday.” To see it, go to http://bit.ly/gakc4Y.
Also last week, a group of Senate Democrats, led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (OR) and Mary Landrieu (LA), pushed for an alternative tax cut agreement that strengthens Social Security rather than providing bonus tax cuts on income over $1 million. To see the Senators’ letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), go to http://bit.ly/i6sQGZ.