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.

U.S. Judge in Virginia Rejects Part of New Health Care Law

A federal judge in Virginia on Monday rejected part of the new health care law, becoming the first court to rule that Congress had placed an unconstitutional requirement on Americans to get health insurance. According to the Los Angeles Times, the decision, which the Obamaadministration is expected to appeal, will not stop implementation of the law that the president signed in March. The new mandate requiring Americans to get health insurance is not set to go into effect until 2014, when Americans will also gain guarantees that they can get health benefits even if they have pre-existing conditions. But the ruling by Judge Henry Hudson, a Republican appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, strikes the most serious legal blow to the law thus far and moves the case toward an expected showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps in 2012. Other judges have already granted the Administration’s motion to dismiss 12 similar cases. The core of the state of Virginia’s lawsuit is the insurance mandate, which will require most Americans to get health insurance starting in 2014 and penalize those who do not. Without a mandate, Americans would be able to buy insurance only when they got sick, driving up premiums – this has occurred in several states that have guaranteed coverage without any requirement. Obama administration lawyers have defended the mandate as permissible under what is known as the Commerce Clause, which gives the federal government broad powers to regulate interstate economic activity. “Similar legal challenges were raised with many of the nation’s most popular landmark pieces of legislation, including the Social Security Act and the Civil Rights Act, but failed,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “Unless every American is required to have insurance, it would be cost-prohibitive to cover those with pre-existing conditions.” On Thursday, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, released “Dangerous to America’s Health,” a report about how the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act would dismantle Americans’ health care. The report can be found here: http://go.usa.gov/1L0.

Likely Presidential Candidate Criticizes Retiree Benefits

Calling public sector unions “exploiters,” Minnesota governor – and likely 2012 Republican presidential candidate – Tim Pawlenty took aim at retiree benefits earlier this week, saying, “we need to end defined-benefit retirement plans for government employees.” Without attribution, Pawlenty claimed, “this change alone can save taxpayers trillions of dollars.”  Pawlenty made these comments in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Retirees who dedicated their lives to public service deserve respect for a job well done, not the scorn of political opportunists,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.

Reminder: Medicare Open Enrollment Ends on December 31

It is time again for Medicare beneficiaries to review their current health or prescription drug plans and make choices about coverage for 2011.  Medicare’s open enrollment period began on November 15, 2010 and ends on December 31, 2010. To learn more, visithttp://www.medicare.gov.

Retirees with the Write Stuff

Under the Alliance’s Retirees with the Write Stuff campaign, if you write a letter on any retiree issue and it is published, send us a copy and we will mail you a U.S. union-made “Retirees with the Write Stuff” pen.  Recent winners include: Harold Aldrich, Nan Brasmer, Barbara Dennis, Robert Dougherty, Mike Doyle, Barbara Franklin, Tony Fransetta, Dave Friesner, Shirley Gauger, Judy Jobes, Daniel Mihalovic, Betty Reina, Donald Rowen, Bea Stratton, Bill Stevens, and Norm Wernet.  Send your letter to ARACommunications@retiredamericans.org.

Florida Alliance Draws a Crowd

On Tuesday, seventy Florida Alliance board members and delegates held their quarterly meeting in West Palm Beach to meet and get ready for upcoming state and federal battles. State Reps.Mark Pafford and Joseph Abruzzo and newly elected West Palm Beach School Board memberMarsha Anderson were among those giving legislative and educational updates.

Editor’s Note: The next Friday Alert will be published on January 7, 2011.  The Alliance wishes all of its members and their families a great holiday season and a happy, fulfilling new year!

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