Problem Solvers Caucus may be key to re-establishing Committee on Aging

Published in RINewsToday on Jan. 16, 2023

H.R. Res. 583, Reestablishing the Permanent House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA), chances were growing slim in getting Congressional attention for passage in the final days of the 117th Congress. Extensive media coverage of the ongoing Ukraine War, the wrap up and issuance of the Jan. 6th hearing’s report and midterm election coverage kept Congressman David Cicilline’s (D-RI) resolution from getting political traction from being considered by the House Rules Committee for ultimate passage and floor action.

The HSCoA was a permanent select committee of the U.S. House of Representatives between 1974 and 1992. The committee was initially created with the intent not of crafting legislative proposals, but of conducting investigations and holding hearings to put the Congressional spotlight on aging issues. Its purpose was to push for legislation and other action, working with standing committees, through regular committee channels. If  H. Res. 583 was passed by the House Rules Committee, it would have brought back the HSCoA. No Senate action was required.

According to the Congressional Research Services, it is a very simple process to 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 issues that need to be address.  Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

Taking a Looking Back

Last Congress, Cicilline’s H. Res 583 would reestablish a HSCoA without having legislative jurisdiction, this being no different than when the select committee previously existed. It would be authorized to conduct a continuing comprehensive study and review of aging issues, such as income maintenance, poverty, housing, health (including medical research), welfare, employment, education, recreation, and long-term care. These efforts influenced legislation taken up by standing committees.

H. Res. 583 would authorize the reestablished HSCoA Committee to study the use of all practicable means and methods of encouraging the development of public and private programs and policies which will assist seniors in taking a full part in national life and which will encourage the utilization of the knowledge, skills, special aptitudes, and abilities of seniors to contribute to a better quality of life for all Americans.

It would also allow the HSCoA to develop policies that would encourage the coordination of both governmental and private programs designed to deal with problems of aging and to review any recommendations made by the President or White House Conference on Aging in relation to programs or policies affecting seniors.

Cicilline’s H. Res. 583 drew the support and attention of the Max Richtman, President and CEO of the Washington, DC-based Leadership Council on Aging and a former Staff Director of the Senate Permanent Special Committee on Aging, along with President Nancy Altman of Social Security Works, and Chair of Strengthen Social Security Coalition.   

Robert Weiner, former chief of staff of the HSCoA, Tom Spulak, former staff director and General Counsel of the House Rules Committee and Vin Marzullo, a well-known aging advocate in Rhode Island, including this writer were strong advocates for passage of this resolution.

Although H. Res. 583 had strong backing from the aging network, the bill never was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor considered by the Democratic controlled House Rules Committee As a result, the resolution never reached the House floor for a vote. As a result, the resolution died at the end of the 117th Congressional session.

The House must reestablish the HSCoA

It is now crucial for Cicilline to reach across the aisle for Republican cosponsors when he reintroduces H. Res. 583 during the new Congress. The need for reestablishing this investigative committee still exists today as when it was first introduced eight years ago.

“America’s seniors have spent a lifetime working hard and moving our country forward and they deserve the financially secure retirement that they worked and paid for. The pandemic disproportionately impacted seniors, and now those with fixed incomes are bearing the burden of inflation and the higher costs food, housing, and other essentials,” says Cicilline.

“I’m extremely proud that we were able to institute a $35 cap on insulin costs and bring down prescription and medical costs for seniors through the Inflation Reduction Act, but there is more work to be done. Reauthorizing the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging will give us the dedicated staff and resources necessary to study and address the issues that affect seniors to make sure they can live the rest of their lives with dignity and security,” adds Cicilline.

“It is vitally important that we ensure Rhode Island seniors have the financial security, access to high quality health care and quality of life they have earned. For this reason, I am proud to support the reestablishment of the HSCoA, and encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle make senior citizens’ issues a priority in the 118th Congress,” adds newly elected Congressman Seth Magaziner.

In the article, “Senior’s Need House of Reps to Bring Back Aging Committee,” I previously coauthored with Tom Spulak and Robert Weiner on this statewide news blog last July, provides the rational and reasoning for reestablishing the HSCoA.

Specifically…

“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 HSCoA becomes even more important.”

“Historically, the HSCoA served as a unique venue that allowed open, bipartisan House 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 only 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.”

“Restoring the HSCoA would provide the House with an opportunity to more fully explore a range of aging issues and innovations that cross Standing Committee jurisdiction of importance to both Republicans and Democrats, while holding field hearings, convening remote hearings, engaging communities and promoting understanding and dialogue.”

“Today, the Senate Permanent Special Committee on Aging is working on everything from scams against seniors to increasing HCBS services, to calling out questionable billing practices by 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 American.”

“Over 30 years ago, working closely with authorizing committees with jurisdiction over aging programs and services, the HSCoA put an end to mandatory retirement.  Alzheimer’s became a household word because of its investigative hearings. Legislation was passed to improve the quality of care in the nation’s nursing homes, even creating the nation’s National Institute’s for Health.“

Centralist to play key role in passage 

“This is a unique moment in time where centrists from both sides in the House could influence legislative action thru genuine bipartisan collaboration”, said Vin Marzullo, who served 31 years as a career federal civil rights & social justice administrator at the National Service agency.   “I am urging our newly elected Congressman, Seth Magaziner, to join with the lead sponsor, Congressman David Cicilline, in the re-introduction of the House Resolution to re-establish HSCoA. 

Additionally, I would advise that bipartisan efforts begin by reaching out to Congressmen Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), co-chairs of the “Problems Solvers Caucus,” for their co-sponsorship/support”, added Marzullo.  “That could be a pathway for better legislating and governing and Congressman Magaziner stated during the campaign that he’d look for common ground with members on the other side of the aisle.  This is it — we need an adult conversation about the Aging of America and how we intend to aid and support our elders, caregivers, and long term care options.”

We’ll see if Cicilline and Magaziner tag-team for a fifth attempt to reestablish the HSCoA.  For the sake of improving the quality of life of America’s seniors, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) must put politics aside and work with a Bi-Partisan Coalition and the Democratic Caucus, to achieve real results for our nation’s older adults. 

For details about the House Problem Solvers Caucus, go to  https://problemsolverscaucus.house.gov/.

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

A Call for House Dems to Bring Back House Aging Committee

Published in RINewsToday on August 16, 2021

Just days ago, Congressman David Cicilline, along with fellow lawmakers, Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Doris Matsui (D-CA), who serve as co-chairs of the House Democratic Caucus Task Force  on Aging and Families, introduced H. Res. 583 to amend the rules of the House to establish a House Permanent Select Committee on Aging. This is the Rhode Island lawmaker’s fourth attempt, and it might well succeed with two co-chairs of the House Caucus Task Force on Aging and Families cosponsoring the resolution.

Getting Schakowsky and Matsui on board is “very significant,” says Cicilline.  He also has the support of the prestigious Washington, D.C.-based Leadership Council on Aging Organizations (LCAO), representing 69 national aging groups.

The original House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, which was active between 1974 and 1992, conducted investigations, hearings and issues reports to inform Congress on issues related to aging, putting a legislative spotlight on the challenges and issues facing the growing aging population in America. 

H. Res. 583 would reestablish the House Aging Committee without having legislative jurisdiction, this being no different than when the permanent committee previously existed. It would be authorized to conduct a continuing comprehensive study and review of aging issues, such as income maintenance, poverty, housing, health (including medical research), welfare, employment, education, recreation, and long-term care. These efforts impacted legislation taken up by standing committees. It has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

It’s relatively simple to create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee, says the Congressional Research Service. All it takes is a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee—giving a purpose, defining membership, and detailing other issues that need to be address.  Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

An Urgent Time Requires Passage of H. Res. 583  

“America’s seniors have spent a lifetime working hard and moving our country forward and they deserve the best in their retirement,” says Cicilline. “The pandemic has disproportionately impacted seniors and now with growing concerns about inflation, seniors on fixed incomes will bear the burden of the rising cost of prescription drugs, food, housing, and other essentials,” he says, noting there has never been a more urgent time for Congress to reauthorize the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging than right now. 

“The pandemic magnified gaps in U.S. policy that routinely forget about Older Americans and the need to nurture a culture that respects them. From the lack of a universal long-term care policy to barriers to vaccine access earlier in the pandemic, these are issues that need to be examined so that Congress can put forward strong solutions to support our aging population and the communities they live in,” says Schakowsky. 

“Older Americans today face many difficulties—including achieving retirement security and affording the rising costs in health care and prescription drugs—which have only been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Matsui, stressing by creating a House Aging Committee Congress can continue to strengthen and support policies that are important to seniors throughout the country. 

Supporters Call on House Resolution’s Passage 

As the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), the preeminent national organization representing and focused on the well-being of older adults, noted in its letter of support for reestablished the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, “now is the opportune time to reestablish the HPSCoA. Every day, 12,000 Americans turn 60. By 2030, nearly 75 million people in the U.S.—or 20% 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.”

“We strongly support Cicilline’s legislation to re-establish the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging. This committee did crucial work on behalf of American seniors between 1974 and 1992, including investigating nursing home abuse, promoting breast cancer screening for older women, improving elderly housing, and bringing attention to elder abuse, among other issues,” says Max Richtman, president and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, warning that “we should not wait another day to re-establish a committee dedicated to protecting America’s seniors.” 

“Cicilline is 100% right that it is time to re-establish this vital committee, with ten thousand Americans turning 65 every day, amid a pandemic that has taken a disproportionate toll on seniors.  Today, there are a new set of issues that demand the attention of a dedicated House committee — prescription drug pricing, long-term care, soaring medical costs and the future of Social Security and Medicare,” adds Richtman.

Bob Blancato who had the longest tenure of any staff on the Committee said: “First I commend Cicilline for introducing the legislation.  The timing was especially good as the release yesterday of the 2020 Census data shows a continued sharp increase in the number of older Americans in our nation.” 

“While I support this legislation it does face considerable odds to gain passage,” warns Blancato, noting that two things could change that.  “The resolution must have backing from House Leadership especially from Speaker Pelosi and it must become bipartisan as the original Committee was.  In the end it is about how do advocates make this into a political issue.  This is an opportunity for the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations to show if it has clout,” he says.

Adds, CEO Sandy Markwood, of National Association of Area Agencies on Aging: “We are a rapidly aging nation: one in five Americans will be age 65 or older within this decade. This historic demographic shift requires policymakers and the public to factor in aging and how we can age well at home and in the community into every policy conversation. For this, the House of Representatives should have a special aging committee as the Senate does: to spotlight not only older Americans, but also the impact of this massive shift on all generations, our communities and society at large. COVID-19 shone a bright spotlight on what we need to do to help older adults age well at home, but local aging leaders like n4a’s members need the House’s leadership to give aging policy the focused attention it deserves…and our demographics demand.”

According to Robert S. Weiner, a close friend and confident of House Aging Committee Chair Claude Pepper (D-Florida) who served as his committee Chief of Staff, the Special Committee was and can  again be the protector of seniors.  “Among its most significant actions — all bipartisan– were advocating and causing enactment of  the law, passed 359-2 in the House and 89-10 in the Senate, barring age based “mandatory retirement and protecting people over 40 from age discrimination,” he remembers.

“The courts are now fudging with that clear intent, and the House Aging Committee would be a visible and influential protector. Transparency by nursing homes and congregate housing settings– as mandated by laws pressed by Pepper decades ago but now ignored —  would be another benefit,” states Weiner. “In housing, health care, nutrition, crime victimization, transportation, accessibility, and social services –in the whole array of actions stopping ageism by local, state, and federal agencies and the courts, including the Supreme Court — the House Aging Committee would again be an invaluable champion for seniors,” he adds. 

“During the 117th Congress, passing H Res. 583 is also necessary to protect against under-the-radar political invasions of Social Security’s surplus — a fund paid by seniors in the program– and attempts to use the money to pay for other programs including tax cuts for the wealthy,” warns Weiner.

As a long-time Washington insider, Weiner says the best way to pass H Res 583 to reestablish the House Aging Committee is for the chief congressional advocate, Cicilline, to talk directly with the top three House leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD and Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and makes the case on the merits and bill’s support while asking for quick endorsement. “Looking back, “that’s how Pepper always did it – he’d pull people to a place on the floor and talk with them there, or on the phone. 

Weiner recalled how Pepper, the fierce aging advocate from Florida, called Rosalyn Carter to ask her husband, President Jimmy Carter for a meeting to discuss the mandatory retirement Carter who ultimately endorsed the bill.  It passed the House 359-2 and the Senate 89-10, being considered by Congress. Ultimately, “the full House Aging Committee (40 members) met with and there was a glorious White House signing ceremony,” he says.

A Call for House Leadership Support 

Cicilline goes into the 117th Congress with the support of long-time Congressional senior advocates, Schakowsky and Matsui and the backing of a prestigious coalition aging organizations to bring back the House Aging Committee.  It will happen this Congress if House Speaker Pelosi along with Majority Leader Hoyer and Whip Clyburn can bring the moderates and progressives of the Democratic House Caucus together to support H. Res. 583.  

Politically it’s the smart thing to do.  It’s a winning policy issue for America’s seniors and this group has traditionally been the highest turnout age group in elections.  But, more important, it’s the right thing to do especially at a time when seniors have been a disproportionately impacted by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.    

I say pass H. Res. 583.