January 23, 2021

January 23, 2021

In Congress this Week

While the pending impeachment trial of former President Trump, the continuing coronavirus disaster, and the debate over President Biden’s new economic stimulus bill has dominated the news, there are other things being discussed in Congress.

The Senate is in the process of preparing for the impeachment trial.  In addition, it is beginning the process of debating the Biden economic stimulus proposal, and it is also in the process of conducting confirmation hearings for President Biden’s nominees for positions of leadership in his Cabinet.

The House of Representatives is conducting committee hearings this week, which are the beginnings of the process of passing legislation.  The Constitution does not give the House any role in confirming Presidential nominees.

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Social Security

We at TSCL are monitoring legislation regarding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as well as other issues of importance to seniors

The need to fix Social Security has come to center stage this week with articles in major news outlets pointing out the urgency.

During his campaign President Biden proposed a plan to reform Social Security by giving eligible workers a guaranteed minimum benefit equal to at least 125% of the federal poverty level. People who have received benefits for at least 20 years would get a 5% bump. Widows and widowers would receive about 20% more per month.

He also proposed changing the measurement for annual cost-of-living increases to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, or CPI-E, which could more closely track the expenses retirees face.

To pay for those higher benefits, Biden would apply Social Security payroll taxes to those making $400,000 and up. In 2021, workers generally pay the 6.2% Social Security tax on up to $142,800 of wages.

We’re in touch with Congressman John Larson (D-Ct.) regarding his Social Security 2100 legislation which he introduced last year and which TSCL strongly supported.  The Larson bill aims to boost benefits and restore the program’s solvency for the next 75 years by raising payroll taxes.

He has not yet reintroduced his bill but, according to an article on CNBC.com, he said the Biden administration, and members of the Senate and House, are looking to come to a consensus by holding roundtables and evaluating different proposals.

“There are a lot of similarities between the Social Security 2100 Act and President Biden’s campaign proposal,” Larson said. “We will be reintroducing a modified Social Security 2100 Act based on what comes out these discussions.”

Getting a bill through the House is one thing, but getting it through the Senate is another.  With a Senate equally divided between the two parties, the power of every Senator is enlarged because it would only take one Senator to pass or defeat legislation.

But in addition, because of the ability of an individual Senator to mount a filibuster, it often actually takes 60 votes to pass legislation.

One of the worrisome aspects of any Social Security reform legislation is that conservative politicians would likely object to raising benefits across the board, according to Rachel Greszler at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“There could be room for a compromise to be made here in terms of boosting the minimum benefit that’s provided, so it’s at least at the poverty level,” Greszler said. “But that would have to come … with a reduction in benefits at the top.”

One challenge that could emerge in the negotiations is for leaders to face the decision of whether Social Security should be an anti-poverty or entitlement program, Greszler said. The Heritage Foundation is advocating for a universal benefit to protect those who are low income, while reducing how much middle- to high-wage earners rely on benefits.

In short, some politicians and others want to cut the benefits of certain Social Security recipients in order to increase the benefits of others.

TSCL is totally opposed to that kind of “fix,” which is no fix at all.

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Lessons we are learning from the coronavirus pandemic are very likely to change things permanently in ways we are now beginning to see, but also in ways we do not yet know.

One of the ways may very well be a new Medicare experiment that would provide in-home symptom management, pain relief and other services to non-hospice patients with serious chronic illnesses.

Currently, home-based care focuses on patient comfort and improved quality-of-life.  It is only available, however, in traditional Medicare through the hospice benefit for patients with less than six months to live.

But as older patients with underlying health conditions have contracted the virus or have neglected getting the health care they need because of fear of the virus, the need for more in-home care has become obvious.

Tragically, traditional Medicare currently offers no at-home services to address the mental, the spiritual, the emotional, let alone the physical needs of these patients.

There has been a growing call for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to launch a demonstration project to evaluate the effects of possible program and service delivery changes.  If successful, it could become a regular benefit of Medicare.

TSCL would support this as a new benefit if the demonstration project shows it to be viable.

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In spite of the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits.  We’ve had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.

For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.