Published in Pawtucket Times on January 4, 2021
Yesterday, the 116th Congress came to an end, with the new Congressional session convening that day with the swearing in of lawmakers elected on Nov. 3, 2020. Some political observers say that legislative gridlock during this Congress made it the least productive in the last fifty years. GovTrack.us, reported that of 16,587 bills thrown into the legislative hopper, 252 became enacted laws, and 712 resolutions were passed.
During a Fox interview last February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) candidly admitted he prevented the consideration of hundreds of bills passed by the House that were sent over to the Senate for consideration. McConnell’s “Legislative Graveyard” created by his controlling the legislative agenda by blocking debate, markup and refusing to allow a vote on House proposed legislation, was widely reported by the media and documented in a 33-page report, “2020 Democracy Score Card,” released last September by Common Cause, a watch dog advocacy group.
The results of tomorrow’s Georgia Senate runoff will determine if the GOP can maintain legislative control of the Senate. If Senate Democratic candidates win their seats, the Senate Democratic caucus will have the majority with 50 Senate seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris having a tie breaking vote. But if McConnell, called “the Grim Reaper” by his critics, continues to maintains political control of the upper chamber, Democratic legislative proposals introduced to improve the quality of life of America’s seniors and to help those struggling to financially make ends meet, would be rejected.
Legislative Proposals to be Reconsidered by New Congress
During the116th Congress, Washington, DC-based aging advocacy groups, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) , AARP, Social Security Works, Leadership Council on Aging, and National Council on Aging, pushed for passage of legislative proposals to enhance the quality of life of America’s seniors and to strengthen and expand Social Security and Medicare, to keep these programs fiscally sound. As the new Congress begins, lawmakers might consider bringing back legislative proposals that were not enacted in the previous Congressional session because of a Republican-controlled Senate. Here are a few legislative proposals that have some merit and I hope to see reintroduced this year:
Congressman John Larson (D-Conn.) called on Congress to finally address the Social Security “Notch” issue. By ignoring this issue, workers born in 1960 and 1961, would likely see lower Social Security retirement benefits in the future, charged NCPSSM. Last session, Larson, who chairs the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, introduced the “Social Security COVID Correction and Equity Act,” to increase benefits for those born in 1960 and 1961 without impacting the benefits for any other beneficiary.
Larson also introduced the “Social Security 2100 Act” to strengthen and expand Social Security. The landmark legislation would keep the program financially healthy for more than 75 years, while boosting benefits for all retirees. Congress must work during the 117th session to protect and expand the nation’s Social Security program.
The late Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Chair of the House Oversight Committee, introduced the “Lower Drug Costs Now Act” which the House passed last session, would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription prices with Big Pharma, which would save the government and seniors nearly $350 billion in drug costs. The bill would also expand traditional Medicare by adding dental, vision, and hearing benefits.
Additionally, a bipartisan crafted bill, the “Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act,” introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), was not allowed to be considered on the Senate floor by Senate Majority Leader McConnell. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this legislation would save taxpayers $95 billion, reduce out-of-pocket spending by $72 billion and finally reduce premiums by $1 billion.
Almost three months ago, the Social Security Administration announced that approximately 70 million Americans would see a meager 1.3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase to Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income. With retirees experiencing financial difficulties during the pandemic, a $20 increase in their monthly check might not help them to pay for spiraling health care and drug costs, along with the expenses of purchasing personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to keep them safe.
Following the announcing of the 2021 COLA, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation Committee, introduced the “Emergency Social Security COLA for 2021 Act” to provide Social Security beneficiaries with a 3 percent increase (or a $250 per month flat increase) which would reduce the impact of the small 2021 COLA increase.
With COVID-19 quickly spreading throughout the nation’s nursing homes and intermediate care facilities, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), “The Nursing Home COVID-19 Protection and Prevention Act,” to provide needed resources to facilities to protect frail residents and staff. Residents in these facilities are among the most vulnerable because of their age and underlying medical conditions. Days after the introduction of the Senate bill, Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), signed on as a cosponsor of the House version.
This legislative proposal would help states implement strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in congregate settings, including through the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing and to support nursing home workers with premium pay, overtime and other essential benefits.
New Push to Reestablish House Aging Committee
“After a lifetime of hard work, seniors should be able to enjoy their retirement years with dignity and peace of mind,” says Rhode Island’s Cicilline. “It’s the best way to secure the future of Medicare and Social Security, bring down the cost of prescription drugs, and find solutions for housing, transportation and long-term care issues that are especially important to Rhode Island seniors,” he says.
A long-time advocate for seniors, Cicilline announces in this weekly commentary his intentions of reintroducing a House resolution in the 117th Congress to reestablish the House Aging Committee
During the previous three Congressional sessions, Cicilline, representing the state’s first legislative district, introduced a House Resolution (just 245 words) to reestablish a House Permanent Select Committee on Aging. Two of the times a Republican-controlled House blocked consideration of the House Resolution.
According to Cicilline, the House can easily create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee by just approving a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee—giving a purpose, defining membership, and detailing other aspects. Funding would be up to the Appropriations Committee. Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.
The previous House Aging Committee was active from 1974 to 1993 (until it was disbanded because of budgetary issues) put the spot light on an array of senior issues including elder abuse, helped increase home care benefits for older adults and helped establish research and care centers for Alzheimer’s disease.
Cicilline noted that a House Aging Committee would perform comprehensive studies on aging policy issues, funding priorities, and trends. Like its predecessor, its efforts would not be limited by narrow jurisdictional boundaries of the standing committee but broadly at targeted aging policy issues, he notes.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get the job done,” says Cicilline.
Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.
Updated on Jan. 4, 2021