February 11, 2011

Republicans in House Begin Attempt to Block Funding for Health Care Reform

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.


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February 04, 2011

Senate Rejects Republican Attempt to Repeal the Health Care Law

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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January 28, 2011

President's State of the Union Address Avoids Call to Cut Social Security

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.


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January 21, 2011

Alliance Members on Guard as State of the Union Address Approaches

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 araorganizing@retiredamericans.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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January 14, 2011

Shootings in Tucson are Personal for the Alliance

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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January 07, 2011

As Republicans Try to Repeal Health Care Law, New Benefits for Seniors Kick in

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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December 17, 2010

Senate, House Pass Tax Cuts that Include Social Security Payroll Tax "Holiday"

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.

 

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December 10, 2010

Proposed Tax Deal Goes against FDR's Vision for Social Security

President Obama announced a tentative deal with Congressional Republicans on Monday to extend the Bush-era tax cuts at all income levels for two years. The package would reduce the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax on all wage earners by two percentage points, to 4.2%, for one year. However, the package would cost about $900 billion over the next two years, and would be financed entirely by adding to the national debt. The deal would also extend unemployment benefits at their current level for 13 months, through the end of 2011.

 

The Social Security payroll tax cut is estimated to cost $120 billion per year, and is a provision that Senate Democrats say could ultimately be the undoing of Social Security. Allowing the payroll tax to expire in a year will mean that workers will see a nearly 50% jump in payroll taxes as the rate reverts back -- an event that is likely to be described as a tax hike. According to The Huffington Post, reducing a person's responsibility to contribute to Social Security also deprives the program of the political and moral capital that has kept the program intact despite fierce opposition from a determined investor class. In arguing against the deal, Nancy Altman, head of the group Social Security Works, noted that such responsibility was put into place by FDR for just that purpose. To see more from FDR on the topic, go to http://huff.to/gVorby. Altman said that dividing the stimulus evenly by simply sending an equal check to every worker would be far more desirable. Both the Senate and the House are expected to debate and vote on the proposal next week.

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December 03, 2010

Panel Rejects Calls for Social Security Cuts

The President’s Fiscal Commission suffered a defeat Friday morning, as 11 of 18 panel members voted to support their far-reaching deficit-cutting plan.  However, 14 of the 18 members of the Commission needed to vote for it to make it an official recommendation, and Commission Co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson acknowledged that Congress will not consider their work at least until next year. “Retirees were very relieved today when Commission members rejected their Co-chairs’ proposal to balance the budget on the backs of retirees,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. According to The Washington Post, the panel’s final blueprint for rebalancing the federal budget closely resembles the plan the Co-chairs released earlier. Like the original, it offers a prescription for reducing deficits by nearly $4 trillion by the end of the decade, in large part by slashing domestic spending, including Social Security. Future retirees would face significant sacrifices, including higher Medicare premiums and a retirement age of 69 in 2075.  The proposal would also cut the annual Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment, and cut benefits overall for middle-income earners by 17% to 36%. The early retirement age would rise to 64 from 62. The final package would balance the budget more quickly than the original, wiping out annual deficits by 2035. To see how each panel member voted, go to http://bit.ly/eNp7FN.

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November 19, 2010

Alliance Praises Rep. Jan Schakowsky's Deficit Reduction Plan

As the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Co-Chairs continue to release details of their plan to address the nation’s debt, many other proposed solutions are also being offered. On Tuesday, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the same Fiscal Commission, released her own deficit reduction plan, after rejecting the proposal of the commission’s co-chairs.  Rep. Schakowsky plans to keep Social Security benefits intact, while making deep reductions at the Pentagon by cutting what many consider unnecessary weapons systems and reducing troop levels.  She calls for a rise in corporate taxes on companies that outsource jobs, as well as controlling excessive pay for chief executives.  Over half the proposed budget cut - $430 billion annually in 2015 - would be achieved by eliminating various corporate tax breaks, ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and creating a new energy tax through the cap-and-trade system.  At the same time, a proposed additional $200 billion economic stimulus would create jobs and combat unemployment. Schakowsky’s plan calls for “sustained, long-term economic growth by ending the trend of concentrating more and more wealth in the hands of the rich and less and less in the hands of the middle class.

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