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/.

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