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/.

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.