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Scrapping the Cap: National Committee endorses Bernie’s new Social Security Bill; Marks the Day Millionaires Stop Paying payroll taxes.

Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced landmark legislation yesterday to keep Social Security solvent for the next six decades --- without cutting anyone’s benefits.  The National Committee endorses the bill, titled the Social Security Expansion Act, introduced on the day when the average millionaire reaches the payroll tax income cap of $127,000 per year.

National Committee President Max Richtman joined Senator Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rep DeFazio and other dignitaries and advocacy groups on Capitol Hill to mark the day and support the new legislation, which would require high-earners to pay Social Security taxes on annual income over $250,000. 

The bill doesn’t “scrap the cap” right away; but for now only income between $127,000 and $250,000 would be exempt from payroll taxes.  Eventually the cap would phased out and completely scrapped.   The expanded payroll taxes (which only affect the top 1.5% of earners) would keep the Social Security Trust Fund flush until at least 2078.   

"We can expand the life of Social Security for 61 years, if we have the guts to tell millionaires and billionaires they’re going to have to pay more in taxes.” – Sen. Bernie Sanders

Senator Warren passionately defended the bill, saying it is necessary because, under current law:

"...Once [the wealthy] hit the cap, they can earn and earn and earn without paying into the system.  We want a Social Security system that works of all America, not just the millionaires and billionaires.” – Sen. Elizabeth Warren

NCPSSM President Max Richtman referred to a favorite metaphor involving a high-earning NBA superstar paying into Social Security.  “He’s already hit the cap and is done contributing before the first quarter of the first game of the season is over.” On a more serious note, he continued, “We are here today to say that for those who have so much, it is only right that they pay their fair share into the Social Security program.”

Richtman used the occasion to recall the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who started the Social Security system:

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little."  - FDR

In addition to lifting the cap, the Sanders-DeFazio bill increases Social Security benefits by an estimated $65 a month, improves the Special Minimum Benefit by making it easier for low-income workers to qualify for benefits, and links the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) formula to a new Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) to factor in costs seniors traditionally face such as prescription drugs, utility bills and property taxes. 

 

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New Poll Shows Majorities Do Not Support GOP Proposals for Social Security and Medicare

Americans overwhelmingly support traditional Social Security and Medicare and oppose benefit cuts, according to a new poll released this week by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. At a time when Congressional Republicans are proposing to fundamentally alter both programs, strong majorities of voters want Congress to protect Social Security and Medicare – and intensely disagree with key provisions of GOP plans.

In the poll of likely voters, 79% favor increasing Social Security benefits --- and funding that increase by having wealthy Americans pay the same rate into Social Security as everyone else.   Seventy-seven percent oppose raising the Social Security retirement age to 69, and a whopping 93% favor allowing Medicare to negotiate to bring down the price of prescription drugs.

“These results prove that Americans want Congress to honor the commitment to all working people who paid into Social Security and Medicare, and keep their hands off these programs,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “This should be a warning to members of Congress that they tamper with our cherished social insurance programs at their peril.”

The poll results were released Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol by Richtman, with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Rep. John Larson (D-CT); Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA); Celinda Lake, President Lake Research Partners; Witold Skwierczynski, President, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, Council 220, American Federation of Government Employees; Steve Hill, Director of Retirement Security Campaigns, SEIU; and Nancy Olumekor, Director, American Postal Workers Union Retiree Department.  

“Social Security and Medicare represent a promise America has made to all those participating in this system,” said Senator Van Hollen. “Americans overwhelmingly want to strengthen these essential lifelines. I strongly support efforts to ensure that these programs can increase benefits and continue to deliver financial security for generations to come.”

Representative Larson said the poll underscores popular support for the kinds of measures he proposes in his Social Security 2100 Act, which keeps the program solvent into the next century while increasing benefits.  “Social Security is not an entitlement; it’s insurance we paid for,” said Larson.  “Let’s say to President Trump:  join us in protecting and expanding Social Security.”

Representative Tony Cardenas (D-CA) made an emotional plea to preserve the two programs by citing a family story. “My grandson’s great-grandmother was saved by Medicare.  It’s a matter of dignity and life.”  He railed against proposals to privatize social insurance programs.  “Do we value dignity? Do we value life?  Make our President and our Congress commit that they will not take it away from you!”

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE POLL:

o   74% favor gradually requiring employees and employers to pay Social Security taxes on wages above $127K, including majorities across party lines.

o   75% favor including a Social Security benefits credit for up to five years of time spent outside the paid workforce caring for young children, aging seniors, or family members with disabilities.

o   65% oppose raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67.

The poll of 800 likely voters nationwide was commissioned by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and conducted by Lake Research Partners from January 4 to January 7, 2017. The poll was co-sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees, American Postal Workers Union, Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers.

 

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Paul Ryan and House GOP on Fast-Track to Repeal ACA, Putting Millions of Insured at Risk

Speaker Paul Ryan and the House GOP are on a tear to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), without being any closer to agreement on a replacement plan. The House will likely introduce a budget reconciliation bill to effectively repeal the ACA in the next two weeks… with no immediate replacement.  Ryan and his troops hope to have a replacement plan by April, but Max Richtman, the President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is skeptical: 

 

"Given the potential political risk of displacing 20 million Americans who now have health coverage through the ACA, the legislative battle will probably take longer than they think."

Republicans meeting in Philadelphia this week to strategize about replacements for the Affordable Care Act were unable to come to a consensus. The disarray in the GOP caucus made for an alarming headline in this morning’s Los Angeles Times:  Republicans divided over whether millions of Americans should lose government-subsidized health coverage.

In the meantime, if Congress repeals the ACA soon but blows past April struggling to replace it, says Richtman, that could destabilize the health insurance market and endanger ACA policyholders’ coverage.

 
"If key parts of the ACA are repealed now, and insurance companies think the situation is too unpredictable, you have an immediate de facto loss of coverage for more than 20 million Americans."

The nearly 60 million seniors and disabled on Medicare are also at risk of losing benefits that the ACA mandated, including annual wellness visits and preventative screenings with no out of pocket costs, and will have to pay an average $1,000 per year more for prescription drugs unless those parts of Obamacare are retained.  Of course, at this point no one knows which of the ACA’s benefits will stay or be shredded, including House Republicans.

 
In a related development, the Washington Post reports the White House is pulling ads for ACA enrollments in advance of the 2017 enrollment deadline.

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National Committee President Rallies Crowd at Day of Action to Protect ACA, Medicare and Medicaid

 

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, joined other advocates, politicians, and everyday Americans at a Day of Action rally in Richmond, Virginia Sunday. The Day of Action was an opportunity for people across the country to stand up for the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid.  The Richmond rally – attended by Richtman, Senator Tim Kaine, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Governor Terry McAulife – was one of more than 40 protests nationwide.

Some one thousand people gathered on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol to make their voices heard.  Max Richtman rallied the crowd early on with a reminder of the struggle to defend Social Security in 2005.  “We had a president (George W. Bush) whose top agenda item was to privatize Social Security. Even with a GOP House and Senate, we were able to kill it.  Not a single bill reached the floor.  And that’s what we can do today.  We can defeat any changes to the ACA which will endanger Medicare.”

Ricthman reminded the crowd in stark terms exactly what is at stake if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, “despite a lot of the myths that citizens have heard in the past few years.”  Medicare beneficiaries, in particular, would lose the valuable improvements that the ACA provided.  “Here is the truth,” Richtman said from the podium, “For the first time ever, Medicare beneficiaries were able to get annual wellness exams with no out of pocket costs under the ACA. For the first time ever, they could get preventative screenings with no out of pocket costs, including mammograms, colon cancer screenings, and diabetes screenings.  All of that will disappear if the ACA is repealed.”  He warned that the Part D Prescription Drug “donut hole” – which the ACA was rapidly closing – would return with repeal, costing the average beneficiary more than $1000 a year.

As the Washington Post reports, the Day of Action was the brainchild of Senator Bernie Sanders and other democratic leaders in Congress.  At rallies across the country, crowds heard poignant testimonials from Americans who benefitted from the Affordable Care Act.  Kate Barrett of Richmond worried that her daughter suffering from incurable cancer could be denied coverage or won’t be able to afford treatment if the ACA is repealed.  73-year old Scott Gledhill said he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two months after signing up for Medicare. “My bill would have been half a million dollars. I would have lost everything I had, after a whole lifetime of work and saving.”

Day of Action organizers want Republicans in Congress to feel public pressure against ACA repeal, and urged attendees to contact their elected representatives right away.  “Don’t agonize. Organize!” was the rallying cry of the day, said Richtman.  “As we've learned from our past battles,” he explained, “Once politicians feel the heat, they begin to see the light.”

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The Trump Conundrum: He Can’t Keep His Promise to Seniors While Also Repealing Obamacare

Donald Trump made a lot of promises to the American people during the Presidential campaign.  For seniors, who supported him overwhelmingly, none was more important that his promise “not to touch” middle-class benefits in Social Security and Medicare.  There’s no doubt his political calculus during this campaign accurately tapped in to a core middle-class value: 

"As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen."...Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times

The problem for President-elect Trump is that the American people fully expect his administration to now keep that campaign promise. Unfortunately, preserving Medicare and Social Security benefits could be among the first of his promises to go. Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have vowed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act will be one of their first acts. For seniors, that means billions in lost Medicare benefits, the return of the Part D prescription drug donut hole and years of solvency taken from Medicare. Millions of seniors will immediately feel the effects of these Medicare cuts which will weaken the program itself.

“The Affordable Care Act strengthens Medicare's financing by increasing efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse; slowing the rate of increase in payments to providers; improving quality of care and phasing out overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans, plans that are continuing to increase their enrollments each year.  The impact of these provisions has already resulted in extending the solvency of the Medicare Part A Trust Fund by more than a decade and lowering Part B out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries.

In addition to Medicare beneficiaries, the Affordable Care Act is very important to millions of adults ages 50-64 who are uninsured because they do not have access to affordable private insurance.  Many of these individuals are now able to purchase private insurance even if they have pre-existing medical conditions, and costs are more affordable due to the law's limits on age rating and the subsidies available for lower-income beneficiaries. 

The number of uninsured “young seniors,” aged 50-64, would increase, leaving them in poorer health by the time they are eligible for Medicare – thereby increasing Medicare’s costs.”...NCPSSM, 2015 ACA Repeal Letter to Congress

In addition to the immediate Medicare cuts that come with the repeal of Obamacare, the Republican Congress has made it clear another top priority is to turn Medicare into CouponCare.  In fact, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPac), has already announced it will include analysis of the GOP’s Medicare privatization plan in its annual report next year. The Republican plans for Medicare, passed in GOP budgets over many years was most recently described in the “A Better Way” campaign led by House Speaker Paul Ryan.  It has already been embraced by Vice President-elect Mike Pence:

“What’s so inspiring to me is how much consistency there is between Donald Trump and the agenda House Republicans have put forward with a ‘Better Way.'”...Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Again, President-elect Trump won’t be able to have it both ways on this issue.  If he wants to preserve seniors’ benefits in Medicare, as promised during the campaign, then adopting a voucher plan designed to shift costs to seniors fundamentally violates that pledge. Privatizing Medicare with a voucher plan, will leave seniors and people with disabilities – some of our most vulnerable Americans – hostage to the whims of private insurance companies and making it even harder for seniors to choose their own doctors. Beneficiaries will pay more money for less coverage because vouchers will not keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance. That is how the program saves money – at seniors’ expense. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office predicted the CouponCare proposal in the GOP’s 2011 budget would cost seniors $20,000 more each year. Over time, this proposal will create a death-spiral ending traditional Medicare. This scheme is, by definition, the antithesis of “not touching” seniors’ benefits.

This conundrum for the Trump administration doesn’t end there. On Social Security, unfortunately, the warning signs for seniors are just as alarming.  Trump advisors and the Republican platform have made it clear that “entitlements” will very likely be on the agenda of a Trump presidency.

“After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. We’ll start taking a hard look at those to start seeing what we can do in a bipartisan way.”

“...I think that whoever [is] the next president is going to have a horrible time in dealing with this, because those entitlements will race to the front of all the economic issues we have in this country.”  Sam Clovis, Trump campaign Chief Policy Advisor, May 2016

"I think you're going to see him do it across the board on entitlements."

"He's not making the case because it's a political suicide to make this case. If you go up and start saying I'm going to attack Social Security, I'm going to attack Medicaid...there goes those votes. So no smart politician is going to step into this milieu."

"At the end of the day, somebody's gotta say you've got to move the retirement age up two years."...Tom Barrack, Trump Economic Advisor, August 2016

The American people have spoken.  They said they wanted change – they got it.  And yet...they’ve also made it clear they don’t support cutting middle-class benefits for millions of American families who depend on Social Security and Medicare. Time will tell whether President Trump will keep the promises candidate Trump has made and what this “change” election will actually mean to workers who’ve earned their Social Security and Medicare benefits and expect them to be protected, as promised. 

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