Legislative Update: February 2015

Legislative Update: February 2015

Three Actions Congress is Likely to Take That Affect Your Benefits

By Jessie Gibbons, Legislative Assistant

November's mid-term elections dramatically altered the makeup on Capitol Hill. For the first time in eight years, Republicans control both chambers of Congress and, in the House, they hold their largest majority in decades. As a result, legislative priorities have shifted, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) believes that three policies that would cut your Social Security and Medicare benefits could potentially garner the support needed to pass through both chambers this year.

First, deficit hawks in Congress could adopt the "chained" CPI, which would result in more slowly growing Social Security cost-of-living adjustments. Deficit hawks on Capitol Hill view it as a small technical correction to the formula that measures inflation, but research shows that it would compound over the course of a retirement. After ten years, it would result in an $88 monthly benefit cut for the average retired couple – an amount that most cannot afford to lose. The “chained” CPI has been on the table for years. It was backed by President Obama in recent budget blueprints. TSCL fears that the new Congress could make its adoption a reality this year. We will be monitoring its movement closely in the coming months, and with the help of hundreds of thousands of grassroots supporters, fighting to prevent its adoption.

In addition, this spring, TSCL believes that budget committee members in both chambers could put forth plans to reform the Medicare program. For the past three years, lawmakers in the House have passed budget blueprints that would dramatically alter the program, turning it into a premium support program where beneficiaries would receive vouchers from the government to put towards the purchase of new private health plans. Estimates of such proposals have shown that beneficiaries would shoulder higher out-of-pocket costs over time. Other proposals would also raise the eligibility age for Medicare, put limitations on what supplemental Medigap plans can cover, and increase means testing. Both chambers in this year’s new Congress could attempt to pass similar proposals. TSCL will keep a close eye on budget discussions that occur this spring, and we will continue to inform lawmakers about the effects that a Medicare overhaul would have on beneficiaries.

Finally, Members of Congress could move comprehensive immigration reform once again. Lawmakers in the Senate adopted a plan to overhaul the system in 2013 and, last November, President Obama issued an executive order that spared an estimated five million illegal immigrants from deportation. His directive also extends Social Security and Medicare benefits to those who qualify, and TSCL is concerned that it could add billions of dollars in new liabilities, based on prior illegal work, to the two programs. We are hopeful that legislation that is considered this year will include protections to close the loophole that allows immigrants to become entitled to benefits based on work done while in the country illegally. In the coming months, we will continue to advocate for legislation that would put an end to this unfair and irresponsible practice.

These and other legislative priorities will likely dominate the first session of the 114th Congress. For frequent updates on the status of the "chained" CPI, Medicare reform proposals, and plans to overhaul the immigration system, and to learn what you can do to help fight these proposals, visit our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org.