Legislative Update For Week Ending January 28, 2012

Legislative Update For Week Ending January 28, 2012

This week, the Senate returned from break and President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union address.  New co-sponsors were also added to a pair of Social Security bills, and negotiations continue on how to fund the “doc fix.”

Obama Urges Lawmakers in the State of the Union Address

While President Obama spent much of his speech to the nation discussing economic policies, he did take the time to direct a message to legislators in attendance.  The President pleaded that lawmakers send him immigration reform legislation that would enable illegal immigrants to earn their citizenship so he could “sign it right away.”  President Obama said he is “prepared to make reforms” that would “rein in the long-term costs” of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs.

New Co-Sponsors Added

This past week, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (NY-8) and Richard Neal (MA-2) signed on to H.R. 1332, the Social Security Fairness Act.  The total is now at 147.  Sen. Tom Udall (NM) signed on to S. 2010, the Social Security Fairness Act, bringing the total to two.

These bills would enable retired school teachers, university employees and thousands of civil servants to receive all of the Social Security pensions for which they are entitled.  A Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) have long limited the full aid that these beneficiaries merit.

War Savings to Fund “Doc Fix” Extension?

Negotiations on how to fund the Social Security payroll tax cut and the Medicare physician “doc fix” continued this week.  House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (MI-4) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (MT) led the 20 congressional conference committee members in talks aimed at producing a bill by the February 29th deadline.

With the Medicare physician payment “doc fix” scheduled to cease at the end of February, lawmakers remain divided on where the funding will come from to extend the current level of payments to doctors.  If the current “doc fix” expires, physicians’ reimbursements will be reduced by a 27 percent rate.

Some Members of Congress question whether the federal government would replace borrowing for Defense with borrowing for Medicare.  Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz (PA-13) said the savings from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would “offer a unique and limited opportunity to resolve this problem that grows every month.”  Other legislators warn, however, that it is misleading to think that these savings could be used as a “doc fix” offset.