This week, lawmakers in the House adjourned for a week-long recess, while those in the Senate heard from Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was recently nominated by President Obama to serve as the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Meanwhile, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three key bills gain support.
Confirmation Process Begins for Burwell
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee held a confirmation hearing for Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama’s nominee for the position of HHS Secretary. Burwell was nominated back in April, shortly after Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that she would be stepping down. If confirmed, she will oversee the Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security programs, and she will also manage the continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
At the hearing, Burwell made two key points of interest to TSCL. First, she commented that she fully supports President Obama’s proposal to increase means testing within Medicare. TSCL opposes the President’s plan since we fear that it could have unintended consequences that would ultimately drive up costs for many of the oldest and poorest seniors. Second, Burwell committed to work with Congress to repeal and replace the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, which has brought instability to the Medicare program for more than a decade. TSCL supports efforts to find a permanent solution, since repealing the SGR will result in higher quality medical care for seniors.
Despite receiving some pointed questions at Wednesday’s hearing, most Senators on the panel seemed overwhelmingly supportive of Burwell’s nomination. Sen. Tom Coburn (OK) introduced her to the Finance Committee and he recommended her confirmation, saying: “When you have someone who is competent and also has a strong character, you find a way to get past your differences and try to solve your problems.” In addition, in his opening remarks, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (WV) said, “We need you, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, very, very much.”
At this point, it appears as though Burwell is on an easy road to confirmation. She will face two votes in the coming weeks – one from the Finance Committee and one from the full Senate. TSCL will keep a close eye on the nomination process since the outcome will have a considerable impact on the future of the Social Security and Medicare programs. For updates, visit the Legislative News section of our website.
Three Bills Gain Cosponsors
This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA-1) – signed on to Rep. Peter DeFazio’s (OR-4) No Loopholes in Social Security Taxes Act (H.R. 1029), bringing the total up to thirty-one. If signed into law, the bill would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund by subjecting all income over $250,000 to the Social Security payroll tax. Currently, the payroll tax cap sits at $117,000, and no income over that amount is taxed.
One new cosponsor also signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up fifty-six. The new cosponsor is Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-1). 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.
Finally, one new cosponsor – Rep. Ted Yoho (FL-3) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795), bringing the total up to one hundred and seventeen. If signed into law, the bill 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 state and local government employees each year.
TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1029, H.R. 3118, and H.R. 1795, and we were pleased to see support grow for each of them this week.