Will Social Security survive the midterms?

Published in RINewsToday on October 31, 2022

With the midterm elections just a week away, the sputtering economy and inflation top the public’s agenda. If voters hold President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers accountable for these concerns, voting for Republican candidates might just give control of Congress to the GOP.  By controlling the legislative agenda of both chambers, the GOP could drastically impact the future of Social Security and Medicare, warns the Washington, DC-based Center for American Progress (CAP), a public policy research and advocacy organization.   

House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) signaled on Oct. 18 during a Punchbowl News interview that the GOP would use next year’s debt limit threat as a bargaining chip to force spending cuts to entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare, warns CAP, sounding the alarm in an Oct. 21st website article.

CAP’s article reported that McCarthy’s statement reveals how he might use the upcoming debt-limit debates next Congress to make cuts in entitlement programs if he takes control of the House’s legislative agenda next Congress. “You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt.  And if people want to make a debt ceiling {for a longer period of time}, just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior.” When pressed on whether the GOP would seek cuts to entitlement programs in a debt ceiling fight, the House Minority Leader refused to take Social Security and Medicare cuts off the table, saying “he wouldn’t predetermine anything,” he said.

Over the past ten months some Republican lawmakers have transparently outlined their plans to change the entitlement programs, noted CAP, detailing these examples:  

Nearly 75% called for slashing and privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age to 70, and ending Medicare as we know it as part of the Republican Study Committee FY 2023 budget, says CAP.  

According to CAP, statements made by two Republican Senators might gain traction in a GOP controlled Congress.  Specifically, Rick Scott (R-FL), Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, might gain support for his “Rescue America” plan, that would sunset Social Security and Medicare after five years, and recreate it every five years.

Over four months ago, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a key Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, promised “entitlement reform is a must for us to not become Greece” if the Republicans control the upper chamber,” noted CAP. 

CAP also noted that Republican Senate and House candidates in hotly contested races also called for changes to Social Security and Medicare and prescription drug reforms that lower drug costs for seniors. 

Added CAP, “Forty seven percent of Republican candidates for U.S. House running in toss-up districts, according to the Cook Political Report, actively support ending Social Security or Medicare as we know it.”

House and Senate Republicans are calling for the repeal of the recently enacted Medicare drug reforms. “In a Sept. 2022 story in Axios, several House Republicans called for repealing the prescription drug reforms included in the [recently enacted] Inflation Reduction Act.  Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the ranking member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, saying, “I would image that will be a top priority for Republicans in the new [Congress],” says CAP.

Even before the dust settles after the upcoming midterm elections, Republican Senators have sponsored legislation to eliminate Medicare prescription reforms, says CAP.  “Senate Republicans Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and James Lankford (R_OK) have sponsored legislation to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act’s prescription drug provisions, including the creation of a $2,000 out-of-pock cap on prescription drug spending for Medicare Beneficiaries; a crackdown on drug companies that increase drug prices in the Medicare program faster than inflation; and empowering Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices,” notes the web article.  

Can Rhode Island’s new congressman stand up to House GOP leadership?

Throughout the CD2 campaign, RI General Treasurer Seth Magaziner has tried to tie former Mayor Allan Fung to the GOP agenda to cut Social Security and Medicare.  Fung has called his Democratic opponent “a liar,” stating that his own mother relies on her Social Security check. During his debates, the GOP candidate says,  “Do you think I would ever do anything to hurt my own mother?” he says.

Fung calls for bipartisan support to strengthen Social Security – like “Scrapping the Cap” that will tax persons at higher incomes, and for the expansion of coverage for dental work, vision care, and hearing aids.  

Fung also distances himself from the far-right Republicans by consistently saying he has a long history of being a political moderate and taking a balanced approach and working across the aisle to get things done. He pledges to co-sponsor bipartisan legislation.

While Fung stays razor focused on tying Magaziner, President Biden and Congressional Democrats to causing high inflation rates and a sputtering economy, Magaziner says don’t forget about Social Security and Medicare.

In an interview with Politico Fung said, “I’ve always been that middle-of-the-road, common sense-type person. They’re talking like, ‘Oh, there’s this radical Republican.’ That’s not me.”

Politico continues, “Fung is among a small cadre of centrists looking to revive the mantle of New England Republican in the House. They’re largely running away from Trump and social conservatism, hitting their Democratic opponents on record-high prices and betting that inflation worries over everything from home heating oil to fertilizer will resonate in the region’s mix of tiny blue-collar cities, wealthy suburbs and family farms.”

Fung talks frequently about his intent, if elected to be involved in the “Problem Solvers Caucus”,  an independent member-driven group in Congress, comprised of representatives from across the country – equally divided between Democrats and Republicans – committed to finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation. He hopes to have a leadership role in this group, bringing a more moderate Republican influence to Congress.

As a moderate freshman congressman, can Fung be a strong voice to the GOP leadership against any proposal that would make cuts to Social Security and Medicare?  As a moderate freshman congressman, can Magaziner be a strong voice to the Democratic leadership?

It’s clear that after a Congressman (Langevin) with considerable years of clout in congress, both candidates will have a path in front of them to create their own influence and strength.

Voters 50+ most powerful, election deciders; true for all Rhode Island cities, towns

Published in RINewsToday on October 24, 2022

Every political pundit knows that seniors are the most reliable voters. AARP Rhode Island’s latest analysis of voter records from the office of the Rhode Island Secretary of State clearly confirms this observation. Age 50 and over voters accounted for more than 70% of Rhode Island voters who turned up in the September 13th primary election, says Rhode Island’s largest aging advocacy group.

“This year’s 50+ numbers increased over the last midterm election in 2018, when Rhode Islanders aged 50 and over accounted for 67% of those who voted,” says AARP Rhode Island. 

“In this year’s primary, 72% of voters statewide were 50 years old or older. This held true in analysis of the Congressional District 2 voters, where 72% of CD2 primary voters also were 50 or older,” says AARP Rhode Island, noting that municipal percentages ranged from 59% (Providence), 69% (Pawtucket and Cranston), 74 % (Warwick), 79% (Bristol) to 87% (Narragansett).  

“Voters 50+ consistently show up at the polls in much greater numbers than their younger counterparts – and then some,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor in an Oct. 18 statement announcing the voting analysis.

“This extremely powerful voting bloc has made it clear that key issues such as protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare, improving nursing home safety, achieving retirement security, and providing means for people to live in their own homes with independence and dignity as long as possible are powerful motivators when they vote. It is undeniable that Rhode Island candidates who want to win must pay attention to issues that matter to 50+ voters,” says Taylor.

“The 50+ are our most powerful voters – and they will be the deciders in the 2022 elections,” Taylor added.

AARP Rhode Island’s “Voters 50+: Our Voices Decide” campaign has provided tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders information on how, when and where to vote at www.aarp.org/RIVotes. Here they also can view videos of gubernatorial and CD2candidates answering questions that reflect older voters’ top concerns as determined by AARP’s most recent statewide Vital Voices Survey.  

AARP Rhode Island captured some 50,000 views of the eight Video Voter Guide videos posted on Facebook and on its Web page for the Primary and General Elections.

According to Maureen Maigret, Policy Advisor for the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI, the AARP data shows the continued importance older voters have in election outcomes. “This will surely carry over to the November 8th election. Older adults are motivated to vote  because they see it as a civic duty and understand how government decisions made by elected officials impact not just their lives, but that of their family members and their community,” says Maigret.

“After the election, protecting Social Security and Medicare must be a major focus of advocacy at the federal level. Seniors also care about strengthening programs to promote independent living in the community and caregiver supports which are both national and state issues,” adds Maigret.  “And they care that our children and grandchildren have access to quality educational opportunities as they represent the future of our state, country and the world,” she says.

Disabilities won’t keep older voters from voting

The second “State of Voters with Disabilities Survey”,  released by Easterseals in partnership with AARP, found that 92 percent of Americans with disabilities age 50+ plan to vote in the 2022 midterm election. The majority say they will use early voting methods and/or require specific accommodations to vote. 

“Tens of millions of Americans with disabilities plan to vote in the 2022 midterm election, but nearly half (43 percent) require specific accommodations to vote, and 62 percent are concerned that changes to voting laws could negatively impact their ability to cast a ballot,” said Kendra Davenport, Easterseals president and CEO in an Oct. 4, 2022, statement announcing the survey findings. “This bipartisan population is highly motivated to participate in the democratic process, but they are very concerned about the barriers in their way to fully exercise their right to vote,” she says.

According to Easterseals, the survey was conducted among a nationally representative sample of people with disabilities, and an oversample of adults with disabilities 50+, from August 23-29, 2022, by Pathfinder Opinion Research. Combined with Census estimates for this population, the survey results show there are an estimated 33 million registered voters with disabilities with nearly 30 million planning to vote in the 2022 U.S. midterm election.

“Recent changes in election laws are impacting voters’ ability to successfully cast their ballots this year. That’s why AARP is dedicated to providing all voters 50+ with trusted information on when, where and how to vote during this election cycle,” said AARP’s director of Advocacy Engagement and Inclusion, Lisa Simpson in a statement. “It’s more important now than ever for all voters 50+ to use their voice and power to vote,” she said.

Sixty one percent of American voters with disabilities 50+ rely on early voting methods to participate in the election by using absentee main-in voting, ballot box drop or early voting in person prior to Election Day. Only 39 % will vote in person.

Additionally, the researchers say that a significant number of voters with disabilities, 43%, require at least one accommodation in order to vote, such as transportation assistance to a voting location, in-person voting assistance from a voting official, a wheelchair at their voting site, and a braille ballot or sign-language interpreter.

“If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as other Americans, there would have been 1.75 million more voters in 2020,” said Lisa Schur, professor and co-director of the Rutgers Program for Disability Research. “Part of the disability gap is due to inaccessible voting systems, which not only make it physically difficult to vote but also send a psychological message that people with disabilities are not welcome in the political sphere,” she says.

Voters with disabilities demonstrate broad, bipartisan support for various policy reforms that would make it easier to vote.  Ninety percent support allowing voters who are older and/or have disabilities to receive assistance from people they trust to request, fill out and return their absentee ballots while 82 % support expanding the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. Finally, 70% support allowing any registered voter to vote by mail with an absentee ballot with no reason given (available in RI).

Be an educated voter

For updates on the upcoming 2022 midterm election, go to AARP.org/elections. Follow local events sponsored by AARP Rhode Island and its advocacy efforts, go to states.aarp.org/rhode-island. You can also text RIVOTES to 22777 to receive a one-time text message with a link to Rhode Island voter information. (Message and data rates may apply.)

Women 50+ may well control who wins in midterm election, polls say 

Published on in RINewsToday on October 17, 2022

Almost three weeks away, and Democrats are scrambling to gear up their get-out-the-vote efforts before the upcoming midterm elections. Can the Democratic party that fights to financially strengthen and expand Social Security, and avoid cuts to funding for Medicare, and put the brakes on skyrocketing prescription costs, count on older woman voters to support their candidates to keep control of Congress?

Maybe not a sure bet, says a newly released AARP poll, “She’s the Difference – Survey of Likely Voters Aged 50 plus,” that finds that while woman aged 50 and older are energized to vote, they are still weighing their options on which party to support.  

AARP’s poll findings should cause a  concern to Democratic candidates. According to voter file and census data, older woman voters are one of the largest, most reliable group of voters. They make up a little more and then one-quarter (27 percent) of registered voters and cast nearly a third (30 percent) of all ballots in both the 2020 and 2018 elections. In 2020, 83 percent of registered women voters in this age group turned and in 2018, the last midterm election, they were 15 percent more likely to vote than the population at large. 

 “As the largest bloc of swing voters heading into the midterms, women voters 50+ can make the difference in 2022 and decide the balance of power in Congress and state houses across the country,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, in a statement releasing the 18-page poll results Oct. 4, 2022.

AARP commissioned the bipartisan polling team of Lake Research Partners, GBAO Strategies, Echelon Insights and Bellwether Research & Consulting to conduct a national survey of voters aged 50 and over. 

“The biggest bloc of swing voters for both parties is women over 50 who are still undecided, frustrated that candidates are not in touch with their lives, and looking to hear that elected officials will protect Social Security from cuts,” said Celinda Lake, founder and president, Lake Research Partners. 

“Increasingly, it isn’t just that voters of different parties that want different solutions to problems – they don’t even agree on what the biggest problem is. But a few issues, like concerns about political division and the future of Social Security and Medicare, do cross party lines with women over 50,” added Kristin Soltis Anderson, founding partner, Echelon Insights.

“Neither party can say they have “won” the votes of women over 50 yet. Older women are evenly divided on the generic ballot and two-in-five say they will make their final decision in the remaining weeks. They will be watching messaging on Social Security, and many will be focused on threats to democracy and gun violence, while others will more closely track inflation and rising prices,” says Christine Matthews, president, Bellwether Research.

A Warning to Congressional Candidates 

Researchers found that an overwhelming majority of older women voters say they will vote on Nov. 8th, (94 percent), however 51 percent of this swing voter group has still not made up their mind as to which candidates to support. Among these voters in a generic congressional ballot, Republican and Democrat candidates are tied, notes the poll’s findings.

The poll findings indicate that Latinas and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women voters 50 and over are more undecided on who they will vote cast their vote for, with 77 percent of Latinas and 68 percent of AAPI women saying they have not made up their minds yet.

Reflecting other polls on senior support of Social Security, AARP’s poll found that women voters 50 and over are unified in their support for protecting Social Security from budgetary cuts, with three-quarters saying that this would personally help them a lot. However, half of the respondents think that the economy is not working for them. 

Additionally, two-thirds (66 percent) of women aged 50 and over say they are cutting down on non-essential purchases, four in 10 (41 percent) have cut back on essentials and 40 percent are saving less as ways to financially survive the increased costs of living.

The poll findings report that specific actions that would help older women the most financially include lowering the cost of food (66 percent), lowering the cost of gas (58percent), lowering the cost of health care (57 percent), and expanding Medicare to cover dental and vision (57percent). 

Over 80 percent of women voters rate their motivation to vote on Nov. 8th at a 10 on a 0 to10 scale, with economic and social issues being key issues for them. The tops issues for Republican women aged 50 and over include: inflation and rising prices (60 percent); crime (51 percent); immigration (49 percent); and election security (49 percent). On the other hand, Democratic women aged 50 and over say voting rights (63 percent) and threats to democracy (62 percent) are their top concerns, followed by gun violence (54 percent) and abortion (54 percent).

Independent women aged 50 and over rank division in the country (46 percent), voting rights (43 percent), threats to democracy (42percent), and inflation and rising prices (41 percent) as their biggest concerns.

AARP’s survey also found that older women voters are unimpressed with the job elected officials have done on “understanding the everyday challenges of people like me,” with three-quarters (75 percent) saying they have done just a fair (32 percent) or poor (43 percent) job.

“Social Security may be a consensus issue with women 50+, yet among Democrats, threats to democracy and voting rights are very much top tier. And across all groups of women 50+, “jobs” are bottom tier. That’s not surprising given not many women have said they have gone back to work or taken on extra shifts in order to make ends meet,” said Margie Omero, principal at GBAO.

A Final Note…

As early voting begins, “Roll Call” notes that there are 81 House races listed as competitive, meaning they are rated as Toss-up, Tilt, Lean, or Likely. Ten Senate seats are considered Leaning or Toss-Up, says the Cook Political Report. With these numbers Democrat and Republican candidates should heed the results of AARP’s poll reporting the older woman voters remain uncommitted to supporting candidates before the upcoming mid-term elections. With weeks to go, how do you bring them back into the fold?

Whoever takes control of Congress on Nov. 8th, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled 17 days between the election until Dec. 15, 2022, to finish business before the closing of the 117th Congressional session. During this time frame, if the House Democrats lose control Pelosi has an opportunity to set a Democratic policy agenda before the next Congress.  She might consider allowing markup and a floor vote on Congressman Larson’s H.R. 5723, Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust Act.  This landmark legislation would strengthen and expand Social Security.  Even with President Joe Biden and 202 Democratic House lawmakers calling for a House vote, it was pulled from markup, reportedly over cost concerns. Passage of this bill would set the stage for the Democrats becoming the protectors of Social Security if the GOP considers making cuts to the program, raising the eligibility age or privatizing the program. 

At press time, the Democratic House Speaker has also not allowed a vote in the House Rules Committee on Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline’s H.R. 583, Reestablishing the House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA) in the House Rules Committee. Passage in this Committee would almost ensure passage on the House floor with Pelosi’s support.  Cicilline’s resolution would bring back this investigative committee that put the spotlight on House aging policies over 30 years ago, but was eliminated in 1994. It’s a winning policy issue for America’s seniors and this group has traditionally been the highest turnout age group in previous elections.  

If the GOP takes control of the House and Senate, it sets the legislative agenda for these two legislative chambers during 118th Congress. For the next two years Democrats will not be able to move legislation to the House and Senate floors that improve the financial health and expansion of Social Security benefits or to bring back the HSCoA.  Congressional Democrats, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Social Security Works, and other aging advocacy groups, would be put in the defensive position to defend Social Security, Medicare, and other federal programs that enhance the quality of life of America’s seniors. 

According to AARP, the national survey (“She’s the Difference…”) was fielded by phone and online between Sept. 6 and Sept. 13, 2022, using landline, cell and text to web data collection. The final survey included interviews with 800 women voters aged 50 and over who are likely to vote in 2022, with oversamples of 100 Black, 100 Hispanic/Latina English speaking, 100 Hispanic/Latina Spanish speaking, and 100 Asian American and Pacific Islander women voters aged 50 and over. Weighting resulted in an effective sample size of 800 likely women voters aged 50 and over with a margin of error of +/- 3.5percent. 

To view the full poll findings, go to https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/politics/2022/shes-the-difference-likely-voters-50-plus-survey-october-2022-polling-memo.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00570.003.pdf.

For further information, contact Rachelle L. Cummins, Research Director at AARP, go to  Research at rcummins@aarp.comresearch@aarp.org

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase his books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, and a sequel, go to herbweiss.com