Legislative Update For Week Ending April 20, 2012

Legislative Update For Week Ending April 20, 2012

This week, Senate Budget Chair Kent Conrad (ND) released his Fiscal Commission Budget Plan, which would overhaul the tax code and make major changes to both Social Security and Medicare. In addition, TSCL saw support grow for the Social Security Fairness Act.

Budget Chair Revives Fiscal Commission Plan

On Wednesday, Senate Budget Chair Kent Conrad laid out a long-term plan to reduce the deficit.  His proposal, called the Fiscal Commission Budget Plan, nearly mirrors the recommendations made in 2010 by President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. According to Sen. Conrad, it would reduce the deficit by $5.4 trillion over ten years.

The plan would reform the tax code by consolidating the six existing brackets into three, and by setting the corporate tax rate at an even 28 percent. It would also make some major modifications to Medicare, including a repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate for physician payments, and a strengthening of the controversial Independent Payment Advisory Board. The proposal also includes a plan to restore Social Security to 75-year solvency by raising the retirement age, increasing the taxable maximum wage cap, and adopting a Chained Consumer Price Index, among other things.

Many believe that Sen. Conrad’s plan entails a fair balance of spending cuts and revenue increases, and they are pleased that he has revived the Fiscal Commission’s recommendations. Others, however, have expressed concerns about some of the entitlement spending cuts that it calls for. TSCL in particular is concerned about the adoption of the Chained Consumer Price Index, which could significantly reduce the lifetime benefits collected by future Social Security recipients.

Sen. Conrad’s budget proposal is expected to spur serious negotiations on a long-term solution, but it is not expected to win passage. In fact, the Senate will not even vote on or make amendments to the proposal. Sen. Conrad has said that “the timing is not yet right” for a vote, but most have blamed Majority Leader Reid (NV) for refusing to bring a budget proposal to the floor in the midst of an election year. Many Senators, it seems, are beginning to look at the post-election, lame-duck session as the prime opportunity to tackle the deficit. As Sen. Conrad said this week, “That may be the only time members on both sides of the aisle will be willing to move off their fixed positions.” TSCL will continue to monitor these negotiations in the meantime.

Two Cosponsors Sign on to Key Bill

Two cosponsors – Rep. Doris Matsui (CA-5) and Sen. Dean Heller (NV) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1332, S. 2010) this week, bringing the totals up to 166 in the House and 13 in the Senate.

The Social Security Fairness Act, if signed into law, would amend the Social Security Act by repealing the government pension offset (GPO) and the windfall elimination provision (WEP). These two provisions unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, firefighters, peace officers, and other state or local government employees each year. TSCL believes that Congress should repeal the GPO and the WEP so that dedicated public servants receive the retirement security they deserve.