January 04, 2013

Fiscal Cliff Deal is Reached, Seniors Dodge Budget Cuts – For Now

The U.S. House of Representative voted 257-167 on Tuesday night to let income taxes on the wealthy rise sharply for the first time in two decades, fulfilling President Obama’s promise to raise taxes on the rich and avoiding the worst effects of the “fiscal cliff.” The agreement, brokered by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), had passed in the Senate early Tuesday, 89 to 8, in a highly unusual New Year’s morning vote.

“While the deal ending this latest round of high-stakes fiscal drama made some progress toward tax fairness, retirees and workers need to remain vigilant against long-standing threats to seniors’ health care and economic security,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. He continued, “We remain deeply troubled by a recurring policy proposal, coldly named the ‘chained-CPI,’ which would base future Social Security Cost-of-Living-Adjustments off a lower, badly-flawed measure of inflation, one that significantly under-estimates seniors’ day-to-day financial needs.” To read Mr. Coyle’s full statement, go to www.bit.ly/S56iOj. For an article in The Boston Globe on other upcoming threats to seniors, go to http://tinyurl.com/az8m5c8.

Democrats in the House voted 172-16 in favor of the bill, while Republicans voted 151-85 against it. House Speaker John Boehner weathered a revolt against the legislation, which played out during two meetings in the Capitol basement in which his fellow GOP lawmakers complained vociferously about having to accept the measure without spending cuts. GOP leadership was split when the vote finally took place. Boehner (Ohio) and 2012 vice presidential nominee and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) voted yes, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) voted no.

Last Friday, Boehner had lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just a few steps from the Oval Office. According to Politico, Reid had upset Boehner by accusing him publicly of running a “dictatorship” in the House and caring more about holding onto his gavel than striking a deal.Politico had termed the harsh exchange “just one episode in nearly two months of high-stakes negotiations laced with distrust, miscommunication, false starts and yelling matches as Washington struggled to ward off $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts.”

The 16 Democrats who voted “no” included both liberals and moderates. More liberal Reps.Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.),Jim McDermott (Wash.), Brad Miller (N.C.), Jim Moran (Va.), Bobby Scott (Va.), and Pete Visclosky (Ind.) voted “no.” But they were joined by moderate-to-conservative Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.) and Adam Smith (Wash.). For a full tally of the fiscal cliff vote in the House, go to http://tinyurl.com/adfnwdp. For a tally of the vote in the Senate, go tohttp://tinyurl.com/b6kq5cj.

What’s in the Fiscal Cliff Deal

The fiscal cliff deal raises $620 billion in revenue, according to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, by restoring the 39.6 percent tax rate for high-income households, as in the 1990s. The top rate would return to 39.6 percent for singles with incomes above $400,000 and married couples with incomes above $450,000. It also extends Emergency Unemployment Insurance benefits for 2 million people. To see what else the deal entails, go to http://tinyurl.com/b88av87. “While we would have liked for taxes to have risen on those making more than $250,000, the deal does keep taxes from rising for the middle class,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

The rate of workers’ payroll taxes, which fund Social Security, has been 4.2% for the past two years. As of January 1, it’s back to 6.2%, on the first $113,700 in wages.

Doc Fix is in Place – for 2013

The budget package that Congress passed Tuesday to avert widespread tax increases and spending cuts blocked a 26.5 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors, with hospitals and other health-care providers paying for a large proportion of it. According to National Journal, there is broad political agreement that the current payment formula, known as the sustainable growth rate (SGR), was a policy blunder. That formula has resulted in escalating pay cuts for doctors, so Congress has voted at nearly every juncture to override the SGR and pay the difference. But the big price tag associated with a permanent repeal of the formula has meant that those reversals have all been short-term. “We need to put a ‘doc fix’ in place permanently to avoid constant upheaval and to keep seniors confident that they will continue to be able to see their doctors,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.

New Congress Sworn In

The 113th Congress was sworn in on Thursday. There are 12 newly elected senators — eight Democrats, three Republicans and one independent, former Maine Gov. Angus King, who will caucus with the Democrats. There will be 20 women in the 100-member chamber, the highest number yet. Eighty-two freshmen join the House — 47 Democrats and 35 Republicans. Women will total 81 in the 435-member body — 62 Democrats and 19 Republicans.

John Boehner Re-Elected House Speaker after a Tough Week

Also on Thursday, Rep. Boehner was elected to a second term as House Speaker. Boehner received 220 votes, with a handful of GOP lawmakers voting for other candidates. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader and former speaker, took second place, receiving the support of 192 members of her caucus.

On Wednesday, Republicans from Hurricane Sandy-ravaged states, including New Jersey and New York, were furious with Boehner for not scheduling a vote to fund relief for those most affected by the October storm. Rep. Peter King, R-NY, said of his own party, “The conduct of the Republican leadership was disgraceful; it was indefensible; and it was immoral.”

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