End Filibuster and Use Federal Government to Secure Elections

Published in RINewsToday.com on October 4, 2021

The clock is ticking… It’s 399 days before the upcoming midterm elections.

Following the Democrats winning the White House and taking control of both the House and Senate chambers, Republican-controlled state houses across the nation moved quickly to pass restrictive legislation to block access to vote. The Republican lawmakers see this legislative strategy as a way to protect election integrity. On the other hand, Democrats say the Republican legislative efforts are in large part motivated by false voter fraud claims coming out of the 2020 elections that continue to this day.

According to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice (BCJ), “between   and July 14 2021, at least 18 states enacted laws that restrict access for the vote. These laws make mail voting and early voting more difficult, impose harsher voter ID requirements, and make faulty voter purges more likely among other things.More than 400 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.”

“There may be more new state voting laws still to come this year. Active regular legislative sessions continue in California, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And Maine’s special legislative session is ongoing,” warns BCJ.

At the same time, more than 900 bills were dropped in the legislative hopper expanding voter access in 49 states during the 2021 legislative session, says BCJ, noting that at least, 25 states enacted 54 laws with provisions to expand voting access. These laws expanded access to early and mail voting, make voter registration easier, and restoring voting rights to Americans with past convictions.

Democratic lawmakers say Congress has the power to block Republican efforts at the state level to restrict access to voting.As of March 2021, the For the People Act passed by the House now awaits action in the Senate, and would reduce the impact of many state-level restrictions by creating new national standards for elections, while preventing common forms of voter suppression and easing access to voting. Democrats are also pushing for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to protect voters by preventing discriminatory election laws from being implemented.

Safeguarding Ballot Access for Seniors

The Washington, DC-based National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) along with 40 senior advocates and political influencers, call on Senators Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) to support changes to the filibuster to protect older Americans’ voting rights. So long as the moderate Senators oppose filibuster reform, Senate Democrats have no legislative path to enact S.1, For the People Act, legislative, passed by the House to ensure voting rights.  Under current Senate rules, Senate Republicans can block S.1 through a filibuster, a legislative procedure requiring a “supermajority” of 60 votes for passage.  Democrats need to pass filibuster reform to pass this legislation.

In a Sept. 21 letters to the two moderate Senators, NCPSSM President and CEO Max Richtman writes that adjusting the Senate filibuster is the only way to safeguard ballot access for seniors if enough Republican Senators won’t support new federal voting rights legislation.  Such legislation is necessary, says Richtman, because of restrictive, new state laws that infringe on seniors’ right to vote by mail.

“We urge you to support a narrow change to the filibuster rule to allow the Senate to approve new voting rights legislation by a simple majority vote. This crucial legislation will help to protect our democracy and the right to vote for all Americans, including older Arizonans who cast ballots by mail,” says Richtman. 

“Currently, seniors who are immobile, sick, or don’t want to risk being infected by the delta COVID variant can request mail ballots — along with those who cannot drive or lack access to mass transit,” says Richtman. “Voting by mail allows these older citizens to exercise their constitutional rights in a safe, convenient way. In 2020, the majority of voters over age 65 cast their ballots by mail.  Multiple studies have shown vote-by-mail to be consistently free of fraud,” he says.

Richtman urged Sinema and Minchin to support a narrow change to the filibuster rule to allow the Senate to approve S. 1, the For the People Act, by a simple majority vote. “This crucial legislation will help to protect our democracy and the right to vote for all Americans, including older Arizonans who depend on voting by mail,” he says.

According to Richtman, study findings note that vote-by-mail to be consistently free of fraud.  For instance, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study results show that  only 0.00006% of 250 million votes by mailed ballots nationwide were fraudulent. Additionally, scholars at Stanford University analyzing 1996-2018 data in California, Utah and Washington found vote-by-mail did not advantage one political party over another, he said.

During the 2020 elections, many seniors chose to vote-by-mail to exercise their right to vote, more important to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Richtman, noting that 41% of voters age 50-64 and 55% of voters over age 65 voted by mail in the 2020 election. 

“The safety and convenience of this method of voting is likely to prove equally effective in future elections – unless state legislatures decide to obstruct voting by mail,” adds Richtman.

Richtman said, “Given the advantages and encouraging results of the nation’s vote-by-mail experience, and the paucity of evidence of voter fraud, we question why so many states are moving in the opposite direction – to discourage vote-by-mail.”

Ensuring Voter Access Once and For All

“The For the People Act would protect all Americans from new state voter suppression laws by setting national mail-in voting standards and guaranteeing no-excuse mail-in voting,” says Richtman, noting that  S. 1 requires states to give every voter the option to vote by mail, calls for prepaid postage for all election materials and state-provided drop boxes for federal races.

“Gray voting block” watching Congress

Published in Rhode Island News Today on September 14, 2021

With recess ending, budget reconciliation begins in the House and Senate as lawmakers come back to Capitol Hill to begin crafting a budget. Last month a $ 3.5 trillion budget resolution bill was passed which gave instructions in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget resolution to allow up to $1.75 trillion of the package to come from new borrowing. It also gave instructions to both the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means to reduce deficits by at least $1 billion each. With lawmakers promising that the package be fully paid for, both Committees must come up with offsets for the full $1.74 trillion of borrowing in addition to any new spending and tax breaks proposed. 

The 11 Senate authorizing committees and 12 House authorizing committees are currently in the process of writing text for their respective portions of the reconciliation bill with a nonbinding completion deadline of Sept. 15. The reconciliation process allows for each chamber’s Budget Committee to combine each part into one reconciliation bill, to be given a floor vote in each chamber.   

The House also has on its legislative agenda a scheduled vote on a Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684) on Sept. 27. With the 2021 fiscal year up at the end of September, Congressional leaders must vote on a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government running. 

Don’t Forget Support Service for Seniors

As Congress crafts and finalizes its budget, don’t forget to provide adequate support and services to America’s seniors, warns the LeadingAge, representing 5,000 nonprofit providers across the nation. The Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group announced the results of poll in June that shows an overwhelming majority of Democratic and Republican voters call on Congress to support programs and services to seniors – and they believe that this should happen now.

The findings from an online survey finding, gleaned from the responses of 800 U.S. adults ages 18 and over from June 15 to June 20, 2021, also revealed that Americans are very concerned about how seniors are treated and believe that elected officials have failed them.

“American families are in crisis. Millions of us are growing older without access to the affordable care and support we need, and demand is surging for critical services,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge in a statement announcing the release of the polling results. “Americans agree that for too long our country has ignored and underfunded our aging services systems,” she says.

Sloan adds, “Americans will no longer accept that millions of older adults living at home can’t get the care and services they need, from help getting in and out of bed to bathing and eating meals,” Sloan added. 

According to Sloan, a large number of seniors can’t access the needed services to age in place in their homes. They are “stuck on affordable housing waiting lists for years, are living in places they cannot afford, are skipping meals and medicine to pay rent or are experiencing homelessness,” she says.

 “Millions of family members and friends are struggling to balance the demands of caring for loved ones—and are increasingly stressed, stretched and in unsustainable situations. It’s time for our elected officials to listen to Americans from both parties and act now to support older adults,” said Sloan.

Here’s a Sampling of Key Findings

LeadingAge’s poll findings revealed that 85 % of the respondents agree that now is the right time to think about building a better aging services system for seniors. This belief is bipartisan, with 91% of Democrats, 83% of Independents and 80% of Republicans, agreeing that now is the time to begin improving programs and services for seniors. This view is also consistent regardless of where people live, with 85% of urban Americans, 87% of suburban Americans and 82% of rural Americans agreeing.

The poll’s findings also call on Congress to make a greater investment in services for seniors, this view is overwhelmingly bipartisan. Eighty six percent say the government must make a bigger investment in services and care for seniors. This includes 92% of Democrats, 80% of Republicans and 84% Independents.

The poll’s respondent’s overwhelmingly support proposed investments for older adults that are currently being considered by Congress. Eighty-nine percent support public investment in affordable home care services to help older adults with essential needs like bathing and dressing, medication management, transportation, and basic daily chores. Eighty-six percent support public investment in housing and support for low-income older adults to address the shortage and waiting lists that lead to homelessness, instability and skipping meals and medicine to pay rent. Finally, 83% support public investment in broadband internet to ensure equitable access for older adults who need this basic utility for telehealth and other care services, and to fight social isolation.

According to the poll’s findings, Government plays a critical role to ensuring that appropriate care and services are available to seniors. Eighty five percent of respondents agree that every person has a right to receive a basic level of housing,  and essential support regardless of age. Regardless of political party affiliation support is robust: 92% of Democrats, 85% of Independents, and 75% of Republicans agree.

More than half of all respondents say that seniors are not treated well in the United States. Eighty-three percent says that elected officials have failed older adults and the people who care for them by ignoring and underfunding America’s aging services for decades. This belief is consisted across communities, with 85% of Americans in rural settings, 83% in urban settings and 83% in suburban areas agreeing.

It’s just 421 days before the midterm elections. LeadingAge’s poll findings should be a stark warning to lawmakers who underfund and ignore the needs of their older constituents. If things stay the same, the gray voting block may well just send a message of their discontent at the polls.

For poll survey details, go to https://bit.ly/393hBRs

House passes Budget resolution – Seniors would benefit

Published in Rhode Island News Today on August 30, 2021

During a late-night negotiating session held Monday, Aug. 23, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi mended fences and brought centralist Democrats led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), back to the fold. The next day, a united Democratic caucus adopted the Senate-passed $3.5 trillion budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 14) for fiscal year 2022, by a party vote of 220-212.

In order to push the budget resolution over the goal line, Pelosi had hammered out an agreement with 9 Democrat moderates, some representing swing states, to schedule a nonbinding vote on a separate, Senate bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure package. Once the Senate bill is passed by the House chamber and signed by President Biden, the new law would authorize new federal spending to repair the nation’s highways, bridges, waterways, encourage transition of gas to electric cars, modernize airports, expand high speed internet and to protect the nations to electric grid. President Joe Biden considers the legislation to be “a once-in-a-generation investment in our infrastructure.”

“We are committed to passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill. We have long had an eye to having the infrastructure bill on the president’s desk by Oct. 1, the effective date of the legislation,” says House Speaker Pelosi.

The passage of the House budget resolution also clears the way for a vote on legislation what would restore portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required localities with histories of voter suppression to get federal clearance before making changes to election laws. 

The Budget resolution, advancing President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, also included reconciliation instructions to provide Senate Democratic leadership with the means to pass a comprehensive reconciliation package, without the threat of a Republican filibuster, with just 51 votes in the Senate, rather than the usual 60 votes. 

Now it is sausage making time as 13 House Committees and 12 Senate Committees begin to craft legislative text, allocating the $3.5 trillion to various investment priorities, to fulfill the reconciliation instructions with a tentative deadline to submit tax and spending legislation by Sept. 15. Committees begin marking up their contributions to the Budget reconciliation package during the week of Sept. 6.

House Adopts Sweeping Legislative Reforms

“The historic passage of this budget resolution puts Congress on track to pass some of the most sweeping legislative reforms in more than a half-century. As President Biden likes to say, ‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value,” stated Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-RI) in a statement released after the budget resolution’s passage.

“This budget paves the path for the Build Back Better Plan to make historic investments in lowering costs for health care, prescription drugs, and childcare while cutting taxes for middle class families and creating millions of new jobs to tackle the existential threat of climate change,” said the Rhode Island lawmaker. Even better, it’s completely paid for by making sure the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations pay their fair share in taxes, he says.

“The transformative investments in women and families – including childcare, paid leave, home-based care and universal free pre-K – will unlock the full economic potential of parents in the workforce and boost our economy. This is the first step in the process, but I’m hopeful this investment in hardworking American families will be able to make our country stronger than ever before America’s seniors will see the strengthening of the nation’s social safety net by allocating billions for affordable housing, home, adds Cicilline. 

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) slammed the passage of the House budget resolution which included a provision to allow Democrats to bypass debate and a separate vote on the Senate-passed budget for fiscal year 2022, which includes reconciliation instructions to usher in $3.5 trillion in new federal spending on socialist-style programs.

“I am astounded by the irresponsible manner in which Speaker Pelosi operated the House this week, simply because she could not get members of her own party in line and on board with her will and wishes,” states Cole. “As a result, Speaker Pelosi had the House skip critical debate and an individual vote on a consequential budget resolution solely intended to trigger $3.5 trillion worth of radical tax-and-spend legislation. Instead of going through the normal process, the reckless budget was buried in another measure to ensure its adoption, whether a majority of support actually existed within the Democratic Caucus,” adds Cole.  

Strengthening the Nation’s Social Safety Net

According to a blog posting, “The House-passed Budget Resolution Holds Historic Promise for Seniors,” on the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare’s (NCPSSM) website, the House budget resolution expands Medicare benefits by adding dental, vision and hearing coverage to traditional Medicare. “This expanded coverage is crucial to seniors overall health, since the absence of proper dental, vision and hearing care can increase the risk of grave medical consequences – from dementia to disabling injuries. Seniors have not seen their Medicare benefits expanded since 2003, with the passage of the significant but flawed D prescription drug program,” says NCPSSM.

NCPSSM says that the Democratic budget blueprint “will aim to correct the main shortcomings in Medicare Part D by allowing the program to negotiate drug prices directly with Big Pharma.  This will save beneficiaries an estimated $102 billion over 10 years.

NCPSSM adds that the budget resolution would allocate billions of new federal Medicaid dollars to support Home and Community-based Services (HCBS).  This historic new level of funding would allow seniors to age in place in their community rather than being institutionalized. “Research has shown that older people have better health outcomes when they can remain in their homes and communities. Meanwhile, the pandemic has only highlighted the risks of putting seniors into nursing homes, notes the blog article.

It’s Wait and See

Will Sens. Kysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D.V.), who are concerned over the cost of the emerging reconciliation bill, stay with their Democratic colleagues when a vote takes place? There is no wiggle room for passage if they choose not to cast their votes with the Democratic caucus.

With a slim Democratic majority in both the House and Senate chambers, the political necessity of keeping their caucuses unified in passing legislation may well result in paring down spending levels. We may well see a smaller expansion of Medicare and less funding for HCBS.

Stay tuned.