Pelosi passes gavel to “younger” generation

Published in RINewsToday on Nvember 21, 2022

With the dust settling after the mid-term elections and GOP taking control of the lower-chamber, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), followed by the No. 2 Democratic, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), will give up their leadership positions although both will keep their Congressional seats next year.

“While [House Majority Whip] Jim Clyburn [D-SC] has ceded his No. 3 position, he’s now seeking to remain in leadership next year in the No. 4 assistant leader slot,” reports Mike Lillis and Mychael Schnell, in a Nov. 19 article, “Democrats’ Leadership Shakeup in Decades Takes Shape with No Drama – Almost,” on the website, The Hill. In a letter to his Caucus members, Clyburn makes his case to stay in leadership by saying he would be a benefit to the new leadership team coming in next Congress.

Pelosi was first elected to Congress in 1987. Since 2003, Hoyer and Clyburn have led the House Democratic Caucus.

Kudos to retiring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Last Thursday, Nov. 17, Pelosi, 82, announced on the House floor that she would not seek a Democratic leadership role in the 108th Congress.  This came after the House lost its Democratic majority to the Republicans, albeit by a small margin.

“And with great confidence in our Caucus, I will not seek re-election to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” she said. “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect. And I am grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility,” said Pelosi, the first and only woman who served as House Speaker and led the Democratic House Caucus for over two decades.

With a slim Republican majority in the House, President Joe Biden had encouraged Pelosi to stay as House Speaker for the last two-years of his term. After her announcement, the President recognized her legislative accomplishments and serving her San Francisco constituents for over 35 years. “With her leading the way, you never worry about whether a bill will pass. If she says she has the votes, she has the votes,” he said.

“Speaker Pelosi, as President Biden said, will be remembered as the most consequential Speaker in our nation’s history. A key part of that role is empowering the next generation, and ensuring that the Democratic Caucus has strong leadership moving forward. I am thrilled that the Speaker will continue to serve in the 118th Congress, representing her home of San Francisco, and enabling the Caucus to continue to learn from her and benefit from her wisdom and experience,” says Congressman David Cicilline, representing RI Congressional District 1.

Cicilline calls Pelosi a brilliant political tactician 

In a statement released after Pelosi took to the House floor to step down from House Democratic leadership, Cicilline stated:   

“Today is a bittersweet day for our country as we mark the end of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s tenure as the leader of the House Democratic Caucus. I have been lucky enough to serve with and learn from one of the greatest political minds in our country for the past twelve years and am honored to call her a mentor, and most importantly, a close friend.  I remain in constant awe of her brilliance, toughness, and dedication to service. Nancy Pelosi led our party to the majority twice and saw our country through some of the toughest times in our nation’s history including the COVID pandemic and the attack on our democracy on January 6, 2021.” 

“The House Speaker’s historic career will not just be remembered for the barriers she broke but also for the incredible progress she delivered for the American people and her beloved San Francisco, said Rhode Island’s Senior Congressman.

According to Pelosi’s House leadership, the Democrats were able to reform the nation’s delivery of health care, deliver accessible and affordable care to millions of Americans, make the largest investment in infrastructure improvements and climate change mitigation in the country’s  history, also ensuring that every single American got the relief they needed and deserved as they faced a once in a lifetime global pandemic.  Pelosi also “protected the nation’s democracy against those who sought to overturn the election result and destroy the very fabric of our nation,” he said.

“Speaker Pelosi has always supported my work since I first came to Congress in 2011 and has been a steadfast ally on gun safety legislation and LGBTQ+ equality. I am also grateful for the trust she placed in me to serve as an impeachment manager following the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, says Cicilline.  

“In addition to our work in Washington, I’ve had the pleasure of welcoming her to Rhode Island many times, where her grandparents first met, and am thankful for her focus on delivering for every American and all Rhode Islanders,” noted the Rhode Island Congressman.

Cicilline added: “Having come from big, loving Italian families, we both learned from a young age the importance of putting family first and looking after our neighbors. We share a commitment and belief that every hardworking American deserves the ability to provide a safe, warm home for their children and the opportunity to get ahead. She has helped to deliver monumental legislation to empower Americans, including the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, providing paid parental leave for federal workers, expanding educational opportunities and student aid, and increasing the minimum wage.” 

“An outspoken proponent of equality, she has been a champion of the Equality Act and the Respect for Marriage Act and led the repeal of the homophobic ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy to finally allow every member of our nation’s military to serve fully as themselves,” said Cicilline, noting that her “trailblazing 35-year tenure in Congress, 19 of those as Democratic Caucus leader, have been defined by her unwavering commitment to service, the American people, and belief that each of us deserves the chance to live our own American Dream.”   

Adds says Congressman-elect Seth Magaziner. “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has served this democracy here and around the globe, while never losing sight of what matters most: rebuilding the American Dream for working people across the country.” 

“I thank Speaker Pelosi for her tremendous leadership and am excited for the next generation of leaders that will tackle the biggest questions of our time— rebuilding our middle class and creating a fairer economy, fighting climate change, and turning the page on Trump-extremism once and for all,” added Magaziner.

“Nancy Pelosi not only has been master of legislative procedure, a unifier of her caucus, a skilled tactician – and someone who broke the ‘marble ceiling’ for women in the halls of Congress. She shepherded several crucial pieces of legislation through Congress to improve the health and well-being of older Americans, including the Affordable Care Act and the Inflation Reduction Act,”  says Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM).

“She will be missed as a leader and a champion for our most vulnerable citizens,” says Richtman, noting that NCPSSM looks forward to a continued working relationship on issues vital to America’s seniors with whomever emerges as the next Democratic leadership team in the House.

During Pelosi’s announcement the Republican side of the chamber was nearly empty except for a few members, including House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana). Scheduled meetings kept House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy from attending Pelosi’s noontime announcement that she was stepping down as the House Democratic leader. Later he would tell reporters, “I had meetings but normally the others would do it during votes — she could’ve done that, I would’ve been there,”  he said.

While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) noted that he had frequently disagreed “forcefully” over the years he congratulated the Democratic House Speaker on “concluding her historic tenure” and her “consequential and path-breaking career.”

Is Passing the Political Touch a Good Thing?    

At press time, Reps, Hakeem Jeffries, 52, of New York, Katherine Clark, 59, of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar, 43, of California are jockeying for the top three Democratic House leadership slots.

“The new leadership team is great, but it should not be exclusively composed of young lawmakers,” says Robert Weiner, former Chief of Staff to Congressman Claude Pepper’s House Select Committee on Aging, former White House staffer, who has written over 1,000 Op Eds published in major media outlets throughout the nation.  

Many characterize Pelosi, Hoyer, and Cyburn stepping down as the “passing of the political torch,” in the House, from one generation to the next, even though the new up and comers are in their 40s and 50s. Weiner questions, “Is this a good thing to celebrate.”

“I am very concerned about the lack of aging leadership with all the wisdom and guidance leaving the podium. “I have written about age discrimination including it occurrence in politics,” says Weiner, calling for voters to decide when it is time to go.

Will the new leadership team take guidance from the outgoing House Democratic Leadership Team?  “We will see how the new team seeks and takes the advice of recent leadership that had such success or puts them on the shelf,” says Weiner.

Florida support needed for Pepper’s Aging Committee | Opinion

Published in the Tallahassee Democrat on June 5, 2022

Bravo to Thomas J. Spulak whose excellent opinion piece, “Remembering the legacy of Senator Claude Pepper, appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat on May 29th, one day before Florida Congressman Claude Pepper’s passing almost 30 years ago.

Although Spulak, President of the Claude Pepper Foundation, tells a through story as to Pepper’s impact on the world stage of foreign affairs, his fight against poverty, for equal payment and an adequate minimum wage, and improving the nation’s health care, it barely scratched the surface as to his accomplishments in fighting for the nation’s seniors.

As Bob Weiner, the former staff director to Pepper when he chaired the House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA), stated “Pepper’s congressional legacy, especially as he grew older, was chairing the HSCoA, which featured banning mandatory retirement (with Colonel Sanders as a witness), protecting nursing homes, expanding home health care, and protecting Social Security with solvency through 2034.”

 Last March, the Leadership Council on Aging Organization endorsed Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline’s H. Res. 583, reestablishing the HSCoA.  Two months later, the Coalition to Strengthen Social Security announced its support of the resolution, too.  The two national coalitions represent almost 400 national and state aging organization’s conservatively representing almost 100 million voters age 50 and over.  

After Pepper’s passing, no national advocate has emerged to take the place of the former Chairman of the House Aging Committee, who served as its chair for six years. As a result, House Democratic lawmakers and aging advocates are forced every new session of Congress to fend off proposals to cut aging programs, Social Security, and Medicare. 

Today, H. Res. 583 has only 50 co-sponsors, six from Florida. It’s time for 21 Florida lawmakers to join their six colleagues to step up to the plate and become cosponsors for Cicilline’s resolution. 

 If not for the fact that it is sound aging policy, support should be given to celebrate Pepper’s legacy and legislative impact that has enhanced the quality of life of the nation’s seniors.

National Aging Coalition pushes to bring back House Aging Committee in DC

Published in RINewsToday on March 28, 2022

In 1992, aging advocacy groups fought unsuccessfully to keep the House Select Committee on Aging  (HSCoA) from being eliminated. The House had pulled the plug on funding for the HSCoA as a cost-cutting measure and to stream-line the legislative process at the end of the 102nd Congress without much notice in the Democratic rules package adopted in Jan.1993 during the beginning of the 103rd Congress.

As the dust settled after the dissolving of the HSCoA, Congressman Michael Bilirakis (R-FL), a former committee member, stated in an article, “Congress Eliminates Committee on Aging,” published March 31, 1993, in the Tampa Bay Times,” I honestly don’t’ think other committees would cover all aging issues.” AARP agreed with Bilirankis’s assessment. “Seniors need a specific forum,” said Tom Otwell, spokesperson for AARP. “The population is getting older, and issues are certainly not going away,” he said. 

During its 18 years of existence, its Congressional oversight on a myriad of aging issues included Social Security, Medicare, nursing homes, aging bias and elderly housing. This oversight influenced the introduction and passage of major legislation enhancing the quality of life of America’s seniors. 

Thirty years later, the Washington, DC-based Leadership Council on Aging Organizations (LCAO), representing 69 national aging advocacy groups, recognized the opportunity to bring back the HSCoA by endorsing H. Res. 583, a resolution introduced in the 117th Congress by Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) to reestablish the HSCoA when introduced Aug. 10, 2021.  The Rhode Island Congressman has also introduced this resolution during the last three congresses.

H. Res. 583 would reestablish the HSCoA without having legislative jurisdiction, this being no different when the initial permanent committee previously existed. The 214-word resolution would authorize 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 assisted the House’s 12 Standing Committees in the creation and advocacy for legislation they drafted. At press time, the resolution has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

According to the Congressional Research Service, it’s quite simple to create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee in the House chamber. 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 addressed. Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. 

Calling for co-sponsor support

While supporting Cicilline’s proposal, LCAO went one step further by calling on House lawmakers three weeks ago, in correspondence, to become co-sponsors. LCAO asked its members to co-sponsor the bill in order to drive the House Democratic Caucus to approve it and bring it to the House floor for a vote. As a House committee, it only needs the House’s approval, where there is now a majority of Democrats.

The time is ripe for the HSCoA to be reestablished, say LCAO. “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 and 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,” noted in correspondence signed by 30 Coalition members.

LCAO stressed that the HSCoA worked effectively in partnership with the House’s 12 Standing Committees with jurisdiction over aging programs and services. “The House Aging Committee, which flourished in the 1970s under chairperson Claude Pepper, partnered and magnified the work of the standing committees in a team effort and a bipartisan manner, holding many joint hearings with them and helping to pass the end of mandatory retirement 359-2 in the House and 89-10 in the Senate, as well as protecting Social Security, exposing nursing home abuses and setting transparency standards, expanding home health care benefits as a way older persons could often delay or avoid the need for being forced into nursing homes and so much more. Ways and Means, Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce and Space, Science and Technology were just some of the Committees who benefited from the partnership and appreciated the House Aging Committee’s help in reaching senior citizens,” stated LCAO. 

As seniors now settle into living in a post-pandemic world, passage of H. Res. 583 becomes even more important. “Historically, the HSCoA served as a unique venue that allowed the open, bipartisan debate from various ideological and  philosophical perspectives to promote the consensus that, in turn, permeated pandemic, and the coronavirus continues to take its toll, exacerbating the problem of social isolation and family separation across generations.  Addressing the needs of older Americans in a post-pandemic world will require vigilant oversight and action,” noted LCAO.

Op Ep tells the story and the need for passage of Cicilline’s resolution 

Robert Weiner, former Clinton White House spokesman and Chief of Staff of the HSCoA under Congressman Claude Pepper,(D-FL) and Ben Lasky, senior policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates News and Public Affairs, recently penned an op-ed for the Miami Herald which calls for the passage of Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline’s H. Res. 583, to reestablish the HSCOA. With threats of Social Security “reforms” (cuts) and the mishandling of Covid in nursing homes which led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, the Committee is needed once again.

Weiner and Lasky say the largest part of Pepper’s congressional legacy, especially as he grew older, was chairing the HSCoA, which featured banning mandatory retirement (with Colonel Sanders as a witness), protecting nursing homes, expanding home health care, and protecting Social Security with solvency through 2034.

“Pepper’s bill that banned mandatory retirement passed 359-2 in the House and 89-10 in the Senate,” they said.

They argue, “The elderly are now threatened with Social Security reforms,” (meaning cuts). Senior citizens also disproportionately died from Covid in nursing homes in Florida, New York and around the country. More than 200,000 have died in nursing homes. Forbes called ‘The Most Important Statistic’ the fact that 42% of US Covid deaths in the first five months of the pandemic happened in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. That number later went down to around 33%. When standards, distance standards, vaccines, and transparency started to kick in (under pressure in many facilities), it got a little better but for many it was too little too late. Tens of thousands died because health care workers failed to follow the transparency, staffing, and safety standards that Pepper had passed into law in nursing homes.”

They continue, “Once vaccines became widely available in 2021, a majority of nursing home workers remained unvaccinated for six more months. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities were let off the hook by governors from Ron DeSantis (R-FL) to Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) for hiding their number of Covid deaths.”

Weiner and Lasky assert, “Older voters vote Democratic and Republican. 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.”

They conclude, “With Pepper’s legacy as the guide, pandemic deaths, nursing homes, home care, Social Security, and Medicare would be improved by Sunlight of Oversight.”

For the benefit of America’s seniors, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team must consider giving H. Res 583 their political support and blessing, calling for a vote in House Rules Committee, if passed allowing for swift consideration on the floor.  As Weiner remembers, “the last HSCoA was so well received and successful because of the strong relationships and bonds to the Standing committees and successful outreach to seniors.” The former HSCoA staff director notes that during his tenure membership grew from 29 to 50 members. “After the committee began, in just a few years, everyone wanted to be on it.” 

AARP’s Otwell’s observations that the nation’s population is getting older, and the issues are not going to go away  and that “Seniors ‘need a specific forum” are true even 29 years later. House lawmakers must pass H. Res. 583 for America’s seniors to give them this specific forum that they deserve.

To read the Miami Herald Op Ed, go to www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article259629314.html