Legislative Update for Week Ending July 18, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending July 18, 2014

This week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report on the nation’s long term budget outlook, and Doug Elmendorf – CBO’s Director – met with the House Budget Committee on Wednesday to discuss the findings. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three key bills gain critical support.

CBO Releases New Budget Report

This week, the CBO released its report on the long term budget outlook, which found that the federal debt is projected to increase from today’s rate of 74 percent of GDP to 106 percent of GDP in twenty-five years if no major changes are made. The nonpartisan agency said the trend cannot be sustained indefinitely, and already, the total amount of debt held by the public is “higher than at any point in U.S. history except a brief period around World War II.”

The report attributed the rapid increase to “an aging population, rising health care costs, and an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance.”  In 2039, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal healthcare programs are expected to cost approximately 14 percent of the economy, which is double the 7 percent average that has held steady over the past forty years.

The CBO recommended substantial changes in tax and/or spending policies in the near future in order to put the federal budget on a sustainable path forward. Acting sooner rather than later is important, the authors noted, so that those affected by any changes have plenty of time to prepare, so that uncertainty can be reduced, and so that long-term interest rates can be held down. Members of the House Budget Committee seemed to agree during Wednesday’s hearing, and Chairman Paul Ryan (WI-1) stated: “If this report tells us anything, it’s that the status quo isn’t working.”

TSCL acknowledges the fact that changes to programs like Social Security and Medicare will be necessary in the coming years, and we agree that changes should be made sooner rather than later to protect seniors from harsh benefit cuts. Our surveys show that seniors favor Social Security reform options that would require wealthier Americans to pay taxes on all of their earnings, and Medicare reform options that would better coordinate care and prioritize the prevention of fraud, waste, and abuse.

In the months ahead, TSCL will continue to advocate for these and other legislative efforts that would improve the solvency of Social Security and Medicare without cutting benefits for seniors.

Three Key Bills Gain Support

This week, five new cosponsors signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795), bringing the total up to one hundred and twenty-eight. The new cosponsors are Reps. Brian Higgins (NY-26), Greg Walden (OR-2), Andre Carson (IN-7), John Barrow (GA-12), and Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18). If signed into law, H.R. 1795 would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) – two federal provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, fire fighters, peace officers, and other state or local government employees each year.

In addition, one new cosponsor – Rep. John Duncan, Jr. (TN-2) – signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (H.R. 2305). The total is now up to sixty-three. 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, two new cosponsors – Reps. Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1) and Juan Vargas (CA-51) – signed on to the Empowering Encore Entrepreneurs (E3) Act (H.R. 4613), bringing the total up to four. If signed into law, the E3 Act would direct the Small Business Administration (SBA) to increase training and mentoring efforts for older entrepreneurs. More than 7 million older Americans are currently self employed, but many of them lack the training and technical expertise that is necessary in order to see success. By expanding outreach efforts, the SBA can help empower seniors and enhance their ability to revitalize the economy.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1795, H.R. 2305, and H.R. 4613, and we look forward to helping build support for them through the remainder of the 113th Congress.