Legislative Update for Week Ending May 24, 2013

Legislative Update for Week Ending May 24, 2013

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the “Gang of Eight’s” immigration reform bill by a vote of thirteen to five. In addition, two House Ways and Means Subcommittees held hearings on entitlement reform, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for four key bills.

Immigration Bill Approved by Senate Committee

On Tuesday, after five days of debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the “Gang of Eight’s” comprehensive immigration reform bill by a vote of thirteen to five. If signed into law, the bill would provide more than 11 million immigrants with a path to citizenship. A number of amendments were adopted by the Senate Committee members, but TSCL was disappointed that they failed to approve an amendment that would have prevented immigrants from earning Social Security credits based on work completed while in the country illegally. Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT) sponsored the amendment, and while he ultimately voted in favor of advancing the bill, he did state that it “needs more improvement” before he would consider supporting it on the Senate floor.

The “Gang of Eight’s” proposal is now in the hands of the full Senate, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) has said he will bring the bill to the floor in June. Until then, TSCL will continue to monitor the evolving negotiations, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Ways and Means Subcommittees Consider Entitlement Reform

Two Ways and Means Subcommittees held hearings on reforming Medicare and Social Security this week. On Tuesday, the Health Subcommittee heard from a panel of experts on Medicare reform, and on Thursday, the Social Security Subcommittee met to discuss potential changes to the program.

The Health Subcommittee focused on three specific Medicare proposals that President Obama included in his fiscal 2014 budget: establishing a home health copay, increasing the annual Part B deductible, and increasing means-testing measures for Parts B and D. Most Subcommittee Members, along with the expert panel, expressed their disapproval of all three options, stating that they would simply shift costs to seniors instead of targeting the root of the problem. Instead, many suggested that they focus on reforming the delivery system to better reward quality medical care.

At the Social Security Subcommittee’s hearing, the focus was also on three specific proposals: cutting the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) by adopting the “chained” Consumer Price Index (CPI), raising the eligibility age, and increasing the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. Support for each proposal was mixed, and while experts on the panel spoke with a sense of urgency, no real consensus was evident among Members of the Subcommittee.

TSCL agrees that solvency issues for both programs should be addressed as soon as possible so that any changes may be phased in gradually. However, we do not support increased cost-shifting or harsh benefit cuts for seniors. Both Subcommittees will likely hold more hearings on reforming the two programs in the coming months. TSCL will continue to monitor the ongoing debate.

Four Key Bills Gain Support

This week, five new cosponsors signed on to Rep. Mike McIntyre’s (NC-7) Notch Fairness Act (H.R. 155), bringing the total up to seventeen. The new cosponsors are: Reps. William Enyart (IL-12), Betty McCollum (MN-4), Collin Peterson (MN-7), Don Young (AK), and Jim Himes (CT-4). If signed into law, Rep. McIntyre’s bill would provide modest compensation to Notch babies, or those who receive lower Social Security benefits because they were born between the years 1917 and 1926. TSCL believes that some compensation for this injustice should be provided, and the Notch Fairness Act would do just that.

In addition, one new cosponsor – Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-9) – signed on to Rep. Peter DeFazio’s (OR-4) No Loopholes in Social Security Taxes Act (H.R. 1029), bringing the total to twenty-eight. Rep. DeFazio’s bill would subject all income over $250,000 to the Social Security payroll tax, reportedly adding another fifty years to the solvency of the Trust Fund. Currently, the payroll tax is capped at $113,700, and no income over that amount is taxed.

One new cosponsor also signed on to Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s (PA-13) Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 574) this week, bringing the total up to thirty-one. The new cosponsor is Rep. Tom Latham (IA-3). If signed into law, Rep. Schwartz’s bill would repeal and replace the faulty formula that is used to determine reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The current formula breeds uncertainty within the program, and H.R. 574 would establish much-needed stability.

Finally, Rep. Rodney Davis’s (IL-13) Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795) gained eight new cosponsors this week, bringing the total up to forty-six. They are: Reps. John Tierney (MA-6), Joe Courtney (CT-2), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Aaron Schock (IL-18), Peter Welch (VT), James McGovern (MA-2), Lois Capps (CA-24), and Elijah Cummings (MD-7). If signed into law, H.R. 1795 would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) – two provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, firefighters, peace officers, and other state or local government employees each year.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 155, H.R. 1029, H.R. 574, and H.R. 1795, and we were pleased to see support grow for each of them this week.