Legislative Update for Week Ending February 1, 2013

Legislative Update for Week Ending February 1, 2013

This week, Members of the House adjourned for a week-long recess, and Members of the Senate turned their focus toward comprehensive immigration reform. In addition, some lawmakers began speaking about alternatives to the automatic spending cuts that are set to take effect on March 1.

Immigration Reform at Top of 113th Congress Agenda

Members of the Senate turned their attention towards comprehensive immigration reform on Monday, with a bipartisan group of eight Senators unveiling a plan that would offer a pathway to citizenship for approximately 11 million illegal immigrants. Their plan would enhance border security, crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, provide a path to citizenship for those currently in the country illegally, and streamline the legal immigration process. President Obama laid out a similar plan on Tuesday, although his plan would not tie citizenship to stronger border security, whereas the Senate plan would make the pathway to citizenship contingent upon secured borders.

Both proposals laid out this week raise many questions for The Senior Citizens League (TSCL). In their remarks, the group of eight Senators and President Obama both mentioned that those with provisional legal status would not be eligible for “welfare or other federal benefits,” but Social Security and Medicare were not explicitly mentioned, and it is unclear whether immigrants would have access to the programs before they are granted legal citizenship. TSCL is also concerned about any loopholes that would allow immigrants to claim Social Security credits for work done illegally, since such provisions would put an unnecessary and unspecified strain on the Trust Fund.  President Obama has said that he hopes to pass comprehensive immigration reform into law as early as June. In the meantime, we will continue to keep a close eye on the debate, and we will post updates here on our website as more details become clear.

Spending Cuts Could Take Effect in March

This week, some Members of the Senate began searching for alternatives to the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that are set to take effect in one month. The cuts are required under the 2011 debt limit deal and were originally designed to take effect on January 1st. However, lawmakers delayed them in the last-minute “fiscal cliff” package that was signed into law in early January, and they are now scheduled to hit on March 1st.

Some in Washington have said they are prepared to let the across-the-board cuts – including a 2 percent cut to Medicare providers – go into effect this time around, but others have said they are committed to averting them once and for all. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (MI) is working on a plan to eliminate some tax breaks, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) has said he is examining possible alternatives that would target oil companies. “We believe that there are different ways of doing sequestration,” Reid said on Tuesday, adding that there are many “low-hanging pieces of fruit out there.”

It remains to be seen whether leaders in Washington will be able to avert the $85 billion in automatic cuts before the looming deadline, since any approach will require a balanced package that both sides can support. If a compromise is not reached, doctors who treat Medicare patients will see a 2 percent cut in reimbursements, which TSCL fears could affect seniors’ access to quality medical care.  We will continue to monitor the “sequester” negotiations, and we will provide updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.