Legislative Update for Week Ending February 14, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending February 14, 2014

This week, both chambers of Congress cleared a clean increase in the debt ceiling, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three key bills gain support.

Lawmakers Raise Debt Ceiling with Two Weeks to Spare

On Tuesday, Members of the House passed a clean increase in the debt ceiling with a vote of 221-201. The following day, lawmakers in the Senate took up the bill – which will suspend the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015 – and passed it with overwhelming support.

This week’s agreement marks the first time in approximately three years that there has not been a policy showdown over increasing the debt limit. In past years, lawmakers have demanded sizable spending cuts in exchange for an extension of borrowing authority. In addition, this time around, lawmakers rushed the bill through both chambers with more than two weeks to spare. In recent years, debt ceiling increases have typically come out of eleventh-hour negotiations.

Many in Congress are relieved that they successfully passed a clean extension that will last for more than one year. Rep. Thomas Massie (KY-4) called the bill “the right thing to do,” and Sen. Patty Murray (WA) referred to the agreement as an encouraging sign. She said, “I am hopeful that we can truly step away from the constant crises and debt limit brinkmanship to build on the bipartisan progress we made.” Other lawmakers, however, were not pleased that the deal included no spending cuts. Following the House vote, Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) said, “[We] should … follow the responsible course of action, which is to insist on meaningful spending reforms before raising the debt ceiling.”

TSCL was pleased to see Congress pass a clean extension of the debt ceiling this week. Failing to increase the government’s borrowing authority would have negatively impacted seniors by delaying monthly checks for both Social Security beneficiaries and physicians who treat Medicare patients. We applaud Members of Congress for their bipartisan achievement, and we hope to see cooperative efforts continue in the coming weeks, as negotiations to repeal and replace the flawed sustainable growth rate formula continue.

Three Key Bills Gain Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Steven Horsford (NV-4) – signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up fifty-one. 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.

In addition, one new cosponsor – Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-6) – also signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (H.R. 2305), bringing the total up to fifty-eight. 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. David Joyce (OH-14) – signed on to the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 2745). The total is now up to twenty-five. If signed into law, the bill would prevent Social Security credits from being earned by work done illegally. Currently, those who receive “green cards” or work authorization may file a claim for Social Security benefits based on all earnings – even earnings from jobs where they used stolen, invalid, or fraudulent Social Security numbers. We believe that this practice must be put to an end in order to protect the integrity of the Social Security program.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 3118, H.R. 2305, and H.R. 2745, and we were pleased to see support grow for each of them this week.