Published in the Pawtucket Times on December 7, 2020
With Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden taking the White House, the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) called on Congressional lawmakers to address the needs of older Americans during lame-duck session ending Jan. 3 and throughout President Biden’s first 100 days in office. Can Congressional lawmakers put aside political differences to pass a last-ditch Stimulus package compromise, a defense bill, and consider aging legislation piling up in just 27 days when the lame-duck session ends? Will there be political grid lock after President Biden takes office on Jan. 20 if the GOP maintains control of the Senate block Congress from taking up legislation impacting older Americans?
Legislation Piling Up in Lame-Duck Session
“Though this is normally a time when expectations for Congressional action are low, the National Committee expects our elected representatives to act on behalf of seniors and other struggling Americans hit hard by the pandemic,” says NCPSSM president and CEO Max Richtman, in correspondence sent to Congress on Dec. 3.
Across the nation seniors are the hardest hit age group by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “Eight out of 10 deaths from COVID in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older. Whether as part of an omnibus funding bill, continuing resolution or COVID relief package, The National Committee is urging lawmakers to pass urgently needed measures for seniors,” says Richtman.
Richtman calls on Congress to address the Social Security “Notch” issue. He warns that if Congress doesn’t take action, workers born in 1960 and 1961, will see lower Social Security retirement benefits in the future. According to the Chief Actuary of Social Security, this will sharply reduce benefits for those born in 1960 compared to the benefits received by people born just one year earlier, creating an effect known as a “notch,” notes NCPSSM’s correspondence.
Congress can correct this notch in Social Security benefits by passing Rep. John Larson’s (D-CT) H.R. 7499, the “Social Security COVID Correction and Equity Act,” says Richtman. The legislative proposal would increase benefits for those born in 1960 and 1961 without impact the benefits for any other beneficiary.
In October, the Social Security Administration announced that approximately 70 million Americans would see a meager 1.3 percent increase Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income. “More than half of seniors receive over one-half of their income from Social Security, and it provides at least 90 percent of income for more than one-in-five seniors. These seniors are dependent on a reasonable COLAs to maintain even a modest standard of living in retirement,” said Richtman.
With retirees experiencing financial difficulties during the pandemic, a $20 increase in their monthly check might not help them to pay for spiraling health care and drug costs, along with the expenses of purchasing personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to keep them safe.
Richtman’s correspondence also pushes for passage of Rep. Peter DeFazio’s H.R. 8598, “Emergency Social Security COLA for 2021 Act,” to provide Social Security beneficiaries with a 3 percent increase (or a $250 per month flat increase) which would reduce the impact of the small 2021 COLA increase.
Protecting the Fiscal Viability of Social Security
Last August, NCPSSM and aging advocacy groups opposed President Trump’s signed executive order that would allow employers to defer workers’ payroll tax contributions for the rest of the year. Between Jan. 1, 2021 and April 30, 2021, these employees will be required to pay back their deferred payroll taxes, doubling their FICA taxes for the first four months of 2021. The National Committee has supported efforts to ease the burden for those affected by this hardship.
NCPSSM correspondence also called on Congress to extend a protection to lower-income Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, including ‘Money Follows the Person’ (which provides funding for states to help skilled nursing care patients to remain in their homes) and impoverishment protections for the spouses of Medicaid recipients receiving long-term care.
Finally, Richtman requested extending the funding for Medicare Low-Income and Enrollment Assistance, which provides funding for State Health Insurance Assistance Programs and Area Agencies on Aging to assist low-income seniors access programs such as the Medicare Prescription Drug Program Part D Low-Income Subsidy.
NCPSSM’s “wish list”, detailed in Richtman’s correspondence, could easily be rolled into a continuing resolution that Congress must pass by Dec. 11 to get the federal government operational. But, any of the legislative proposals pushed by The National Committee would be bottled up in the Senate, by GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, referred to as the “grim reaper,” he Republicans maintain control of the Senate during the 117th Congress.
GOP ‘Grim Reaper’ Keeps Democratic Bills from Consideration
Last February, on Fox News Friday, anchor Bret Baier asked McConnell to confirm Democratic charges that House passed and Senate proposed legislation would never see the light of day on the Senate Floor. At the time of this interview, the GOP Senator, controlling his chamber’s legislative agenda, confirmed that 395 bills sitting in his chamber would not be passed.
“It is true,” admitted McConnell during the Fox News interview. “They’ve been on full left-wing parade over there, trotting out all of their left-wing solutions that are going to be issues in the fall campaign. They’re right. We’re not going to pass those.,” he said, recognizing the politics of a divided government.
McConnell’s ‘Legislative Graveyard’ created by his blocking debate, markup and refusing to allow a vote on Democratic proposed legislation is well documented in the press and by a report released last September by Common Cause, a watch dog advocacy group with chapters in 35 states. “In fact, the Senate’s inaction has the 116th Congress on track to be the least productive in history, with just one percent of the bills becoming law [between] January 3, 2019 to September 16, 2020],” said Aaron Scherb, Common Cause’s director of legislation and author of the 2020 Democracy Scor
During an interview published on Sept. 16, 2020 in Newsweek, Scherb said, “There have been hundreds [of bills] that have been passed by the House at this point. There have only been 158 enacted laws by this 116th Congress to this point. Yet there are hundreds of bills that have passed the House but continue to sit in Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s desk, or his ‘legislative graveyard’ as it’s been called.”
With McConnell winning his reelection, the senator from Kentucky can only maintain control of the Senate’s legislative agenda if he can keep two GOP Senate seats up for grabs in next month’s Senate runoff in Georgia. A Democratic win will give the party a majority 50 Senate seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie.
In order to pick up the two GOP Senate seats, held by incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Democrats must successfully mobilize voters and adequately fund the campaigns of Democrat Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnoc. At press time, millions of campaign dollars are pouring into Georgia’s Senate runoff elections, with the two GOP Senators bringing in more campaign donations because of Republican super-PACs giving them the spending edge. The Democrats are receiving their political contributions through small donors.
Even with the Democrats controlling the White House and House of Representatives, if McConnell maintains control of the Senate, legislative gridlock in the upper chamber will most certainly continue. This will make it more difficult for the NCPSSM and other Washington, DC-based aging advocacy groups to successfully push for passage of legislation to ensure the financial security and health of seniors