October 18, 2013

Budget Agreement Averts Immediate Crisis, but Threats to Seniors Still Loom

The U.S. House and Senate passed legislation on Wednesday night to end the government shutdown and stop the country from hitting its debt ceiling. President Obama immediately signed the bill into law before a default could ensue. The agreement contains four elements:

  • The federal government will be funded  through January 15, 2014 at sequestration levels;
  • The debt limit is extended until February 7,  2014;
  • A House-Senate budget conference will be established to come up with long-term spending plans by December 13, 2013 (however, there will be no automatic enforcement mechanism should a conference report not be reached); and
  • Income verification steps will be added for recipients of subsidies under Obamacare’s newly-established health care exchanges

The bill, known as H.R. 2775, passed the Senate 81-18 and the House 285-144.  No Democrats in either house voted against it. A majority of Senate Republicans voted for the bill, while a majority of House Republicans voted against it. The Senate roll call is athttp://tinyurl.com/mzmzluy, and the House roll call can be found at http://tinyurl.com/lbz73tb.

On Thursday, both the House and Senate appointed conferees to the budget conference to come up with a plan to cut the deficit before a December 13 deadline. House Republicans named Budget Chair Paul Ryan (WI), along with Reps. Tom Cole (OK), Tom Price (GA), and Diane Black (TN). Democrats named Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (MD),James Clyburn (SC), and Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (NY).

The Senate named the entire Budget Committee as conferees.  They are committee chairPatty  Murray (WA), and Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (OR), Bill Nelson (FL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Mark Warner (VA), Jeff Merkley (OR), Chris Coons (DE), Tammy Baldwin (WI), and Tim Kaine (VA) as well as Bernie Sanders (I-VT) andAngus King (I-ME), who caucus with the Democrats.  The Republicans are Jeff Sessions (AL),Chuck Grassley (IA), Mike Enzi (WY), Mike Crapo (ID), Lindsey Graham (SC), Pat Toomey(PA), Ron Johnson (WI), Kelly Ayotte (NH) and Roger Wicker (MS).

The following Republicans who are on the conference committee voted against the agreement to reopen the government: Reps. Ryan, Price, Black and Sens. Sessions, Grassley, Enzi, Crapo, Toomey and Johnson.

The budget conference brings with it serious potential threats to Social Security and Medicare. If you have not already sent a message telling your U.S. Representative and Senators not to cut Social Security or Medicare as part of the budget conference, click on http://tinyurl.com/l9zrmgj.

“There is real danger ahead of a ‘grand bargain’ that would cut seniors’ Social Security and Medicare benefits, giving us more reason to be anxious. Such a deal would more accurately be termed a ‘Grand Betrayal,’” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. To read the Alliance’s press release regarding the budget deal, go to http://tinyurl.com/nx25adf. For a Politicoarticle on how House members running for Senate seats voted, go to http://tinyurl.com/mdqe6tm.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on Thursday in the Huffington Post that he would make sure to protect Social Security against attempts to trade cuts for sequestration relief (http://tinyurl.com/p6mtb7w). For a new Alliance fact sheet comparing the President’s FY 2014 Budget to the Ryan House Budget and the U.S. Senate Budget, go to http://tinyurl.com/khxglqx.

Alliance Chapters Protest Government Shutdown with Die-Ins, Other Tactics

California Alliance members staged “Die-In’s” in Los Angeles and San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon to draw attention to the sobering cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs that are being discussed. On the eve of the government re-opening and debt ceiling extension, seniors, protestors  from the disability community and others wore black clothing and skull masks, adding to the effect by carrying black roses with signs reading: “Cause of Death: Cuts to Medicare.” News and compelling photos at http://tinyurl.com/qykx8wd,http://cbsloc.al/1cz1Ai0, and http://huff.to/1aSbY28 (photos at bottom!). Other Alliance chapters all across the country joined with AFSCME and coalition partners this week to put more pressure on Congress to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling without cutting seniors’ programs. Alliance members also sent more than 14,000 pass-through letters to Congress with a similar message since just last week.

“Thank you to everyone who did your part to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling without doing so at seniors’ expense,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

Poll Shows Public Once Again Disapproving of Cuts to Social Security, Medicare

The public wants to reduce the debt, but is unwilling to cut Social Security and Medicare, according to a recent United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll. On Social Security, 76% of poll respondents say they don’t want spending to be cut at all; just 21% say they want spending on the program to be reduced a lot or some. With Medicare, 81% oppose any cuts, while only 18% back reductions of any kind. Read more at http://tinyurl.com/lna783s.

Medicare Enrollment Season is Here – is Your Current Plan Still the Best for You?

The seven-week enrollment period for next year’s Medicare prescription drug and managed-care plans began on Tuesday. Seniors should not simply renew their policies and assume the current coverage will stay the same, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). That is because there is a likely payoff for those who pay close attention to the details. In the past, price hikes, poor performance, and changes in covered drugs were often not enough to spur the vast majority of seniors into action. Only 13% changed policies in the four years since Congress added the drug benefit to Medicare in 2006, according to another analysis released last week by KFF.

“If seniors keep the same plan despite an insurance company offering a bad deal, it gives the insurers an incentive to keep their prices high,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. For more on Medicare plans and open enrollment, go to http://tinyurl.com/ls8bkdv.

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