This week, lawmakers passed legislation to avert a government shutdown and those in the majority party continued working on legislation to reform the tax code. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw several key bills gain support in the House and Senate.
Lawmakers Avert Government Shutdown
On Thursday evening, lawmakers in the House and Senate voted to pass a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the federal government until Friday, December 22nd. TSCL is pleased that lawmakers successfully averted a government shutdown since failing to do so could have impacted the timely delivery of Social Security benefits. Physicians and other medical providers also could have seen delays in their reimbursements from the Medicare program if the federal government had shut down.
The CR that was adopted on Thursday will provide funding for two weeks, which lawmakers hope will give them enough time to iron out the details for a larger spending package. TSCL will be following the negotiations closely in the coming days and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.
Tax Plan Moves to Conference Committee
This week, lawmakers in the House and Senate voted to begin conference negotiations on legislation to overhaul the tax code. Representatives in the House passed their tax reform bill last month, and Senators in the Senate passed their version last Friday, with a vote of 51-49. Members of the bicameral conference committee have been busy ironing out the differences between the two bills this week, and they hope to have a deal reached before they adjourn for the holiday recess on December 22nd.
TSCL’s legislative team is monitoring the tax reform negotiations closely, and we have serious concerns about several provisions that would impact older Americans, including the following five…
- The Senate-passed bill includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which experts predict will result in a loss of health insurance coverage for 4 million individuals, many of whom are older Americans who are not yet eligible for Medicare. Those who remain insured through the individual market are expected to see premium increases of 10 percent or more – a hike that would make health insurance unaffordable for many. Most House Republicans have said they support a repeal of the mandate, and it is expected to be included in the final version of the bill.
- The House-passed bill eliminates the medical expense deduction, which approximately 5 million taxpayers over the age of sixty-five rely upon when their out-of-pocket medical costs total more than 10 percent of their annual income. The elimination of this deduction would be a catastrophic financial loss for those who find themselves in need of costly in-home or nursing home care. Congressman Kevin Brady (TX-8) – the chairman of the bicameral conference committee – said this week that he hopes to keep the deduction in place, but discussions remain up in the air.
- Both House and Senate tax reform bills index the individual tax brackets and the standard deduction to the slowly-growing “chained” Consumer Price Index (CPI). This change will result in tax increases for most individuals over time because they will reach higher tax brackets faster than they would under current law. It also increases the probability that lawmakers will apply the inadequate “chained” CPI as a cost-saving measure to other government indexes that grow with inflation, like the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
- The massive cost of both House and Senate tax bills, estimated to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit, will trigger automatic spending cuts in 2018 due to language in the Statutory Pay-as-You Go Act of 2010. The Act, commonly known as “pay-go”, prevents legislation from adding too much money to the deficit. Because the $1.5 trillion cost of the bill is not adequately offset, the Medicare program will see $25 billion in cuts in 2018, and other critical programs like Meals on Wheels would see their budgets slashed. Lawmakers have said they will pass legislation early next year to avert these cuts, but that remains uncertain.
- Republican leaders have also begun discussing plans to reform Medicare and Medicaid next year in an effort to reduce the deficit that the $1.5 trillion tax bill will create. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (WI-1) said in a radio interview on Wednesday: “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit … This has been my big thing for many, many years. I think [Medicare is] the biggest entitlement we’ve got to reform.” TSCL opposes reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, and other earned benefit programs that would result in higher out-of-pocket costs for older Americans. We will continue to advocate against benefit cuts in the months ahead.
TSCL’s legislative team will be monitoring the tax reform discussions closely in the coming days and weeks, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. In the meantime, we encourage our supporters to contact their Members of Congress to request their opposition to tax reform measures that will jeopardize the health and financial security of older Americans. For contact information, click HERE.
Key Bills Gain Support in the House and Senate
This week, the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R.1205, S.915) gained one new cosponsor in Congressman Steve Stivers (OH-15), bringing the new cosponsor total up to 164. In the Senate, the bill gained six new cosponsors in Senator Bill Nelson (FL), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), Senator Mazie Hirono (HI), Senator Jack Reed (RI), and Senator Patrick Leahy (VT). If signed into law, the Social Security Fairness Act would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) – two Social Security provisions that unfairly reduce the earned benefits of millions of public employees each year.
The Social Security Expansion Act (H.R. 1114) gained one new cosponsor in Congressman Donald Payne (NJ-10), bringing the new cosponsor total up to thirty-one. If signed into law, H.R. 1114 would enhance Social Security benefits by basing COLAs on the CPI-E, increasing monthly checks by around $65 per month, improving the Special Minimum Benefit, applying the payroll tax to income above $250,000, and applying a 6.2% tax on investment income for wealthy individuals.
The CPI-E Act of 2017 (H.R.1251) gained two new cosponsors in Representative Peter Welch (VT-01) and Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-08), bringing the new cosponsor total up to 47. If signed into law, H.R. 1251 will base cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security benefits on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E).
The Fair COLA for Seniors Act of 2017 (H.R. 2896) gained two new cosponsors in Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-01), which brings the total cosponsors up to two. If signed into law, H.R. 2896 would provide a mid-year COLA to Social Security beneficiaries of 3.9% to account for an insufficient increase in 2017, and it would apply the CPI-E to future Social Security COLAs.
The SNAP Simplification for the Elderly Act (H.R. 4521) gained one new cosponsor in Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), bringing the new cosponsor total up to 20. If enacted, H.R. 4521 would streamline the application process for senior citizens to receive help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill would also encourage collaboration between local Social Security offices and the SNAP programs to help seniors at risk of hunger enroll in both benefits simultaneously.
TSCL supports these bills enthusiastically, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week. For more information, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.