October 25, 2013
Harry Reid: No Grand Bargain in the Near Future
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) ruled out the possibility that a budget conference committee convening next week will reach a “grand bargain” that would cut Social Security and Medicare, raise taxes and reduce spending. “We are not going to have a grand bargain in the near future,” he said. Instead, he suggested negotiators should focus on a replacement for sequestration and forget “happy talk” about a grand bargain. The comments came a week after the deal he reached with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
A House-Senate budget conference will be established to come up with long-term spending plans by December 13, 2013. Congress faces a Jan. 15 deadline to fund the government again to prevent a shutdown, and a Feb. 7 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Reid said a wider deal could happen next year if mainstream Republicans can take control of the GOP away from the Tea Party. Mr. Reid signaled that he could be open to minor trimming of some Medicare or Social Security spending as part of deal that involves tax revenue. More at http://tinyurl.com/pk6n5to.
“We still have to mobilize vigorously to make sure that seniors’ programs are not cut as part of the budget conference deal,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.
Key Negotiator, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Does Not Want to Reduce Medicare Benefits
On Tuesday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said that said he would be open to finding Medicare savings in ways that give care providers incentives to cut costs, but that he would want to avoid changes that reduce the benefits that Americans receive. He said he would consider some changes to Medicare. One idea that would be a tough sell with Democrats is a change in the way that cost-of-living increases are calculated in Social Security. The change would be made by adopting the less-generous gauge of inflation known as the chained CPI. Such a plan “creates a whole lot of problems within the Democratic caucus,” Van Hollen acknowledged. To read more, go to http://tinyurl.com/ofdwvhx.
Detroit’s Bankruptcy Trial Begins
The trial over the city of Detroit’s eligibility for bankruptcy began on Wednesday. In an unexpected development, a lawyer for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said that the governor had agreed to testify at the trial, most likely next week. According to The New York Times, “Hundreds of protesters circled the downtown courthouse on Wednesday for the opening of the trial, many carrying banners and signs that attacked Mr. Snyder as favoring bondholders and banks over the city’s employees and its 23,000 retirees.” Lawyers for unions and retiree groups challenged an assertion that the city had made a good-faith effort to reach a deal with workers and retirees. They argued that the governor’s handpicked emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, called for significant cuts in employee pensions and health care without offering unions an opportunity to bargain on the issue. Jennifer Green, a lawyer for some city pension funds, said e-mails and documents showed that it was a “foregone conclusion” that Mr. Orr’s law firm would pursue a “Chapter 9” filing as a way to circumvent a provision in the Michigan Constitution that protects public employee pensions. The judge in the case wants more information on why the legislation was passed as an appropriations bill, which makes it immune from a referendum to repeal it. More at http://tinyurl.com/ldqs7lg. To see a great video from AFSCME regarding the Detroit bankruptcy filing, go to http://www.afscme.org/giftroit.
Troubling Trade Deal on the Horizon
Have you heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement? If not, you’re not alone – the American people, by design, know very little about what U.S. negotiators are promising in closed-door talks with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries. 600 corporate advisors have access to the text, but the rest of us do not. “What has come to light is that in addition to corporate-favored terms that would send American jobs offshore and decrease environmental and health safeguards, the TPP could undermine the ability of states or the federal government to moderate escalating prescription drug, biologic drug and medical device costs in public programs,” saidRuben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “That includes limiting the government’s ability to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs through Medicaid and the Veterans Administration.”
The Alliance is joining with labor, public interest groups and others in urging Congress and the President to make the process of these negotiations transparent, allow public input, and ensure that the TPP agreement and future trade agreements do not limit the tools of states or the federal government to manage pharmaceutical and medical device costs in public programs or bind the U.S. to a 12-year exclusivity period for brand-name biologic drugs. More athttp://www.citizen.org/TPP.
New Hampshire and New Mexico Alliance Chapters Hold Conferences, Elect Officers
Thirty activists attended the New Hampshire Alliance’s conference in Hooksett last Friday. Elected to leadership positions on the board were: Lucy Edwards, President; Jane Lang, Executive Vice President; Terry Lochhead, Secretary; and Jerry Conner, Treasurer. One speaker, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, advised seniors to be engaged politically in order to protect Social Security and Medicare. She was quoted in the Manchester Union Leader saying, “If you don’t sit at the table, you will be on the menu. Seniors, get active; let everyone know you won’t be on the menu.”
The next day, New Mexico activists gathered in Albuquerque for the New Mexico Alliance for Retired Americans’ Triennial Convention. Guests gave engaging speeches on the convention theme of “Retirees Built the American Dream” to another crowd of 30. Following a keynote by state senator Linda Lopez, delegates elected: John “JD” Doran, President; Elva Santos, 1st Vice President; Sally Gallosa, 2nd Vice President; Carolyn Devore-Parks, Treasurer; andCarlos Caballero, Secretary. Other speakers included Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D), state Federation of Labor President Jon Hendry, state Attorney General Gary King, and State Reps.Sheryl Williams-Stapleton and Patricia Roybal-Caballero. Go to http://tinyurl.com/q88dzgb for Facebook photos.
“I would like to say a big thank-you to both of our outgoing Presidents, Pablo Trujillo in New Mexico and Ron Geoffroy in New Hampshire, for their hard work and dedication to further the cause of retirees,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the national Alliance.