Legislative Update for Week Ending January 15, 2016

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 15, 2016

This week, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union Address, and leaders on Capitol Hill began forming their legislative agendas for the coming year. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for two key bills.

Leaders Lay Out Legislative Priorities

On Tuesday evening, President Obama delivered his eighth State of the Union Address before both chambers of Congress. He laid out four key goals for the future: ensuring a fair opportunity for all, harnessing technological advancements, keeping the country safe, and improving the political system.

President Obama also spoke briefly about his hopes for Social Security and Medicare, saying the two programs must be made stronger. He stated: “It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber. For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher … That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever. We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them.”

While TSCL agrees that the two programs must be strengthened responsibly, we were disappointed that President Obama did not offer any specific policy goals, like increasing the payroll tax cap for the wealthiest Americans, making the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) more fair and accurate, allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate prescription drug costs, or ramping up efforts to fight fraud, waste, and abuse.

At a Brookings Institute event the following day, TSCL got a glimpse of House Budget Chair Tom Price’s (GA-6) policy goals when it comes to Social Security and Medicare. He made it clear that reforming the two programs is at the top of the Budget Committee’s agenda, alongside broad tax reform. Chairman Price said he hopes to increase the age of eligibility for future Social Security beneficiaries and create a new premium support option for Medicare beneficiaries – two policy options that TSCL does not favor.

He also said changes to the two programs must be made as quickly as possible so they can be phased in slowly. TSCL agrees that Congress should act now in order to avoid harsh benefit cuts for current and future retirees. In the months ahead, our legislative team will be advocating for the policy priorities laid out by our members and supporters in recent polls and surveys. To add your voice, participate in our 2016 Senior Survey right here. You can also tell us how you think the two programs should be strengthened on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Two Key Bills Gain Cosponsors

This week, five new cosponsors – Reps. Kathy Castor (FL-14), Yvette Clarke (NY-9), Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) – signed on to the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1391), bringing the total up to seventy-five. If signed into law, H.R. 1391 would enact an across-the-board Social Security benefit increase, base COLAs on a more accurate inflation index, increase the minimum benefit to 125 percent of the poverty line, and restore the solvency of the trust funds, among other things.

In addition, three new cosponsors – Sen. Patty Murray (WA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), and Rep. Donald Norcross (NJ-1) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 1651 and H.R. 973). The cosponsor total is now up to twenty-one in the Senate and 136 in the House. The bill, if signed into law, would repeal the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision – two federal provisions that unfairly reduce or eliminate the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, firefighters, peace officers, and other state or local government employees each year.

TSCL enthusiastically supports the Social Security 2100 Act and the Social Security Fairness Act since both would strengthen the Social Security program responsibly. We were pleased to see support grow for both of them on Capitol Hill this week.