his week, members of the new budget conference met for an opening session, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) announced its support for legislation that would extend the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) health insurance exchanges. In addition, important numbers were released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week, and TSCL saw three key bills gain support.
Budget Conference Meets for First Time
On Wednesday, the budget conference that was created in last month’s deal to raise the debt ceiling and re-open the government met publicly for the first time. Each of the twenty-nine members – including seven House members and all twenty-two members of the Senate Budget Committee – made opening statements to establish their positions. As expected, many of the conferees seemed split along party lines on Wednesday, but each of them stressed a strong desire to reach an agreement.
Some in Congress are hopeful that the conferees will negotiate a “grand bargain,” which would include an overhaul of the tax code and entitlement reform. However, leaders in both chambers have been pushing for the conferees to focus more narrowly on replacing the “sequester” and establishing a fiscal 2014 budget blueprint. Should the conferees fail to reach a consensus, the government could face another shutdown on January 15th, a default on February 7th, and about $20 billion in across-the-board spending cuts at the beginning of the year.
With only six weeks to go before the December 13th deadline, it remains to be seen which path the budget conference will take. Leaders of the conference announced on Wednesday that the next public meeting will be held on November 13th, but most of the work will likely occur behind closed doors in the coming weeks. Regardless, TSCL will continue to monitor the evolving budget negotiations, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.
TSCL Announces Support for New Legislation
This week, TSCL announced its support for the Delay until Fully Functional Act (S. 1592 and H.R. 3359), which was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) in the Senate and by Rep. Trey Radel (FL-19) in the House. The bill, if signed into law, would delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate for six months once the Government Accountability Office certifies that the exchange website is fully functional.
TSCL believes that the Delay until Fully Functional Act represents a fair solution to the technical problems that the HealthCare.gov website has been experiencing for the past month. Millions of Americans – including seniors under the age of sixty-five – have been unable to purchase insurance coverage through the new marketplace due to the technical glitches. According to the law, those who fail to enroll before March 31st will be faced with a tax penalty of either $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher.
TSCL feels that individuals should not be penalized financially if they are unable to enroll on time due to technical issues with the website, and we enthusiastically support the Delay until Fully Functional Act. We look forward to working with Sen. Rubio and Rep. Radel in the coming months to help build support for their bill.
HHS Announces 2014 Medicare Premiums, COLA
This week, HHS announced several important numbers that will affect Social Security and Medicare benefits beginning in January. On Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that the Medicare Part B monthly premium will be left unchanged in 2014, and it will be set at $104.90. The Part B deductible will also be left unchanged, and it will remain at $147. CMS officials noted on Monday that the past five years have been among the slowest-growing for Part B premiums in the Medicare program’s history.
In addition, on Wednesday, the Social Security Administration announced that seniors will receive a 1.5 percent Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2014, which is slightly lower than 2013’s 1.7 percent COLA, and is far lower than the 3 percent average COLA over the past thirty years. Officials also announced on Wednesday that the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax will increase in January from $113,700 to $117,000. In a press release, SSA noted that about 10 million workers will pay higher taxes in 2014 as a result of the increase.
Three Key Bills Gain Support
This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (MP) – signed on to the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 1030), bringing the total up to twenty. If signed into law, the CPI-E Act would base the Social Security COLA upon the spending patterns of seniors. Currently, it’s based upon the way young, urban workers spend their money – a method that underestimates the spending inflation that seniors experience each year.
In addition, one new cosponsor – Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) – signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118). The cosponsor total is now up to thirty-eight. 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 CPI-E, resulting in more accurate COLAs; and it would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. H.R. 3118 would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors.
Finally, one new cosponsor – Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH-3) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795) this week, bringing the total up to ninety-four. If signed into law, the bill 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 state and local government employees each year.
TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1030, H.R. 3118, and H.R. 1795, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week.