Legislative Update for Week Ending November 3, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending November 3, 2017

This week, lawmakers released the text of legislation that will comprehensively reform the tax code if adopted, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) delivered letters to Capitol Hill outlining three tax-related changes that would strengthen the Social Security program. In addition, TSCL endorsed two new bills that would reduce prescription drug costs, and several key bills gained support.

Tax Reform Legislation Introduced in House

 On Thursday – one day later than promised – lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee released the text of legislation that will comprehensively reform the tax code if signed into law. Despite the delay, leaders in the House expressed their commitment to passing the legislation before the Thanksgiving recess begins on November 17th. Just eight legislative days remain before then.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (TX-8) said in a statement on Tuesday evening: “We are pleased with the progress we are making and we remain on schedule to take action and approve a bill at our Committee beginning next week.” Ranking Member Richard Neal (MA-1), however, urged Republicans on the Committee to slow down. In a letter to Chairman Brady, he said: “I write to urge you in the strongest possible terms to slow this tax reform process to a pace that will allow for reasonable, informed deliberation.”

If adopted, the Ways and Means Committee’s tax bill would consolidate the existing individual tax brackets, phase in a repeal of the estate tax, and permanently reduce the corporate tax rate, among many other provisions. The bill does not include reductions to the limits on 401(k) contributions as many – including TSCL – expected. It would keep the current limits on 401(k) contributions unchanged at $18,000 per year (or $24,000 for those over the age of fifty).

On Thursday, TSCL delivered letters to several congressional offices – including the offices of lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee – requesting support for three tax-related changes that would strengthen the Social Security program:

  1. Increasing the payroll tax rate. Social Security is currently financed by a 12.4 percent payroll tax, split evenly between employers and employees. Gradually increasing the tax rate to 14.4 percent – just one percent more for both workers and employers – would extend the solvency of the Social Security program for decades to come and would amount to just an extra 50 cents per week for the average worker.
  2. Increasing the payroll tax cap. Under current law, the 12.4 percent payroll tax is applied only to the first $127,200 in earned annual income. Individuals earning more than that pay nothing in Social Security taxes on the rest of their earnings. Several proposals now before Congress would modify this policy so that higher income workers contribute more fairly to the program.
  3. Eliminating income taxes on Social Security benefits. Millions of middle-income Social Security recipients currently pay income taxes on a portion of their Social Security benefits. According to a recent survey of TSCL’s members, 56 percent of older households pay taxes on their benefits, and that number is projected to rise in the coming years. Eliminating this income tax would provide millions of middle-income beneficiaries with much-needed tax relief.

Together, these three changes would strengthen the solvency of the Social Security program and cut taxes for millions of older Americans. In the letter that was delivered on Thursday, Art Cooper – Chairman of TSCL’s Board of Trustees – wrote: “If enacted, these reforms would go a long way in strengthening the Social Security program, and TSCL’s members and supporters hope they will be included in comprehensive tax reform legislation.”

In the weeks ahead, TSCL will continue to advocate for tax reforms that would benefit the financial security of older Americans, and we will post updates on the movement of the Ways and Means Committee’s bill here in the Legislative News section of our website. For more information on TSCL’s tax reform recommendations, click HERE.

TSCL Endorses Two New House Bills

This week, TSCL endorsed two new bills from Congressman Lloyd Doggett (TX-35) – the Transparent Drug Pricing Act (H.R. 4116) and the Competitive DRUGS Act (H.R. 4117). If signed into law, the bills would promote transparency in the prescription drug industry and prevent anti-competitive pay-for-delay deals, in which brand-name drug companies pay generic drug makers millions of dollars to delay the introduction of their generic medicines to the market.

In a statement, Congressman Doggett said: “Despite groundbreaking medical discoveries, we see no breakthrough in affordability for consumers. Drug pricing in America is a tangled mess, a knot that will take more than one cut to pull apart … Sick patients are tired of seeing Congress do nothing about a problem that affects so many.”

TSCL agrees with Congressman Doggett, and we were pleased to lend our support to both bills this week. For more information or to track the progress of the bills through the House, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.

 Four Key Bills Gain Support in Congress

This week, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act (S. 2011) from Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) gained one new cosponsor: Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT). If adopted, the bill would require the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Its cosponsor total is now up to seven in the Senate.

The Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act (H.R. 2575) also gained one new cosponsor this week, bringing its total up to seven in the House. If signed into law, the bill from Congressman Raul Ruiz (CA-36) would simplify the Medicare enrollment process and ensure that those nearing eligibility are adequately informed about the program’s benefits. Its new cosponsor is Congressman Gus Bilirakis (FL-12).

The Guaranteed 3 Percent COLA Act (H.R. 991) from Congressman Eliot Engel (NY-16) also gained one new cosponsor this week: Congressman Andre Carson (IN-7). If adopted, it would base the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) on the more accurate Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E), and it would guarantee an annual benefit increase of at least 3 percent. The bill now has six cosponsors in the House.

Finally, the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R.1205) from Congressman Rodney Davis (IL-13) gained ten new cosponsors this week, bringing the total up to 158 in the House. The bill, if adopted, would repeal two provisions of the Social Security Act that reduce the earned benefits of millions of state and local government employees each year.

The new cosponsors of the Social Security Fairness Act are as follows: Congressman Patrick Meehan (PA-7), Congressman Luke Messer (IN-6), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Congressman Danny Davis (IL-7), Congressman Ben Ray Lujan (NM-3), Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-5), Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Congressman Juan Vargas (CA-51), Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-1), and Congressman Tim O’Halleran (AZ-1).

TSCL enthusiastically supports S. 2011, H.R. 2575, H.R. 991, and H.R. 1205, and we were pleased to see support grow for each one this week. For more information about these and other bills endorsed by TSCL, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.

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