Published in RINewsToday on July 4, 2022
By Tom Spulak, Bob Weiner and Herb Weiss
With a backdrop of extensive media coverage of the ongoing Ukraine War, the Jan. 6th hearings, and covering the political postering of Republican and Democrats as the midterm elections approach (just 127 days from now), Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) along with 50 Democratic cosponsors calls on the House of Representatives to pass his legislation, H. Res. 583, that would reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging, (HSCoA) and for Speaker Pelosi and Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern to schedule the necessary consideration in the House Rules Committee to enable floor action.
The Rhode Island Congressman’s effort has caught the attention of a group, including former Congressional staffers, the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition (both representing over 100 million seniors age 50 and over), Execs of national aging groups, the Florida-based Claude Pepper Foundation, and a Rhode Island writer, who see the need to bring the investigative Special Committee back to put the spotlight on a myriad of aging issues that Congress must address.
Every day, 12,000 Americans turn 60. By 2030, nearly 75 million people in the U.S.—or 20 percent of the country—will be age 65 or older. “As America grows older, the need for support and services provided under programs like Social Security, SSI, Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act also increases,” and the need for re-establishing the House Selection Committee on Aging (HSCoA) becomes even more important.
The last two years have proven particularly difficult for older adults in our country as the coronavirus had a disparate impact on the lives of older Americans, particularly those residing in the 28,900 nation’s assisted living facilities and over 15,000 nursing homes.
Historically, the HSCoA, operational from1975 to 1993, served as a unique venue that allowed open, bipartisan debate from various ideological and philosophical perspectives to promote consensus that, in turn, helped facilitate the critical work of the standing committees. Addressing the needs of older Americans in a post-pandemic world will require this type of investigative, legislative oversight, work which can be advanced and promoted by reestablishing the HSCoA.
As Americans are aging, we also face a variety of intergenerational concerns that merit the investigation by the HSCoA, such as growing demands on family caregivers and a burgeoning retirement security crisis.
A restored HSCoA would have an opportunity to more fully explore a range of aging issues and innovations that cross Authorizing Committees of jurisdiction, while holding field hearings, convening remote hearings, engaging communities, and promoting understanding and dialogue. Having both would bring value to Congressional deliberations.
Today, the Senate Permanent Special Committee on Aging is working on everything from scams against seniors to increasing Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), to calling out questionable billing practices by private Medicare Advantage insurers. Seniors have been better off over the last 30 years with a Senate Aging Committee in existence — and the Senate investigative committee would benefit from a reestablished HSCoA, whose sole mission would be to look out for older Americans.
Older voters vote both Democratic and Republican. Although the Democrats created an array of federal programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act, these doesn’t guarantee they vote for this party. Quite candidly, it’s close. In 2020, while Joe Biden won the popular vote by 7 million, Donald Trump won the senior vote 52% to 47%. It’s not a matter of party. Seniors’ quality of life is not political. Passage of H. Res. 583 would send a very clear message out to America’s older voters that Congress can successfully govern and create legislation to enhance the quality of life in their later years.
Over 30 years ago, Congressman Claude Pepper died. He was a great visible national advocate for America’s seniors. In his 80s, he chaired the HSCoA and later the House Rules Committee. As Chair of HSCoA, he passed landmark aging legislation, working closely with the House authorizing committees with jurisdiction over aging programs and services. His efforts put an end to mandatory retirement. Alzheimer’s became a household word because of the hearing of his investigative committee. Legislation was passed to enhance the quality of care in the nation’s nursing homes, even creating the National Institute’s for Health.
As newspapers in communities across the nation curtail or jettison their investigative teams, the initial HSCoA has a proven track record and reputation of investigating aging issues, and this is a sound reason as to why the investigative committee should again be reactivated.
Reestablishing the HSCoA would recognize Congressman Pepper, the nation’s most visible and effective spokesperson for seniors, and more importantly to seniors a seat at the “legislative table” as Congress deliberates and debate aging policy issues.
What a symbolic opportunity to have passed H. Res. 583 in May during Older Americans Month. Sadly, this did not happen. But Speaker Pelosi has an opportunity to use her leadership position to endorse the resolution to bring back the HSCoA before the midterm elections. And Congressman Cicilline must continually remind his House colleagues of this resolution’s importance to America’s seniors, each, and every chance he has — on the House floor, at Committee meetings, and in the hallowed halls of Congress. With the support of the Democratic caucus, leadership will get the message that it’s time to act. Now.
Tom Spulak, former staff director and General Counsel of the House Rules Committee when Claude Pepper was Chairman.
Bob Weiner is former staff director and confident to the late Congressman Pepper when he chaired the HSCoA.
Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket, RI-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 40 years, and writes this weekly column on aging issues for RINewsToday.com.