Legislative Update for Week Ending December 20, 2013

Legislative Update for Week Ending December 20, 2013

This week, lawmakers in the Senate voted in favor of the bicameral conference’s budget plan, and President Obama signed it into law shortly thereafter. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three key bills gain critical support.

Budget Deal Signed into Law

On Wednesday, Members of the Senate advanced the bipartisan budget deal that was written by the co-chairs of the bicameral conference with a vote of 64-36. President Obama signed it into law shortly thereafter. The budget deal sets the top-line spending levels for 2014 and 2015, and it reduces the automatic spending cuts under the “sequester” by $63 billion over the next two years. Its passage will prevent another federal government shutdown that was scheduled to hit on January 15th, and according to Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1) – one of the deal’s authors – it will cut the budget deficit by $23 billion over the next ten years.

TSCL is pleased that Members of Congress were successful in reaching a compromise that does not cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. We are also pleased that the deal includes a temporary “doc fix,” which will prevent a 24 percent pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients from occurring on January 1st.

However, TSCL is not pleased that the deal negatively impacts military retirees under the age of sixty-two. Their annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) will be reduced by one percentage point each year, which will amount to a significant benefit cut as it compounds over the course of a retirement. This provision has drawn opposition from a number of lawmakers, and many have been outspoken about it. Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) said on Tuesday, “My objection that moves me from ‘undecided’ to a ‘no’ is what this budget does to military retirees, and the fact that it breaks a promise made to [them] for years and years.” TSCL agrees that the COLA cut is significant, and we are hopeful that lawmakers find a replacement for it before it goes into effect in 2015.

Now that top-line spending numbers for the next two years have been established, appropriators in the House and Senate will begin crafting an omnibus to divide up the $1.012 trillion among the various federal agencies. They have until January 15th to finalize a spending package, and according to a number of House and Senate appropriators, negotiations have already begun. In the coming weeks, TSCL will keep a close eye on the evolving budget talks, and we will continue to post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Three Bills Gain Cosponsors

This week, five new cosponsors signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795), bringing the total up to one hundred and five. They are: Reps. Steve Cohen (TN-9), Stephen Lynch (MA-8), Jim Gerlach (PA-6), Lois Frankel (FL-22), and Same Graves (MO-6). If signed into law, the bill would repeal the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision – two provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of state and local government employees each year.

In addition, one new cosponsor – Rep. Daniel Lipinski (IL-3) – signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (H.R. 2305), bringing the total up to fifty-two. If signed into law, the PRIME Act would take a number of steps to comprehensively prevent fraud, waste, and abuse within the two programs – a problem that TSCL believes must be addressed in order to ensure that scarce program dollars are being spent properly.

Finally, one new cosponsor – Rep. Danny Davis (IL-7) – signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up forty-five. If signed into law, the bill would reform the Social Security program in three ways: it would adjust the benefit formula, resulting in more generous monthly benefits; it would adopt the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E), resulting in more accurate cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), and it would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. The bill would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1795, H.R. 2305, and H.R. 3118, and we were pleased to see support grow for each of them this week.