Legislative Update for Week Ending November 22, 2013

Legislative Update for Week Ending November 22, 2013

This week, members of the bicameral budget conference seemed to hit an impasse, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) announced its support for the Social Security and Medicare Lock-Box Act. In addition, two key bills gained cosponsors this week.

Conferees Hit Budget Impasse

The twenty-nine member budget conference seemed to reach a standstill this week. Three weeks remain before the official December 13th deadline, but House and Senate appropriators requested a top-line spending number before November 22nd – the start of the week-long Thanksgiving recess – and the conferees failed to deliver.

In a letter that was sent to the twenty-nine conferees on Monday, members of the House Appropriations Committee wrote: “We call on the Budget conference to reach an agreement on the FY2014 and FY2015 spending caps as soon as possible to allow the appropriations process to move forward … If a timely agreement is not reached, the likely alternatives could have extremely damaging repercussions.” According to the appropriators, the alternatives include: a government shutdown on January 15th, continued governance by continuing resolution, and a second round of across-the-board spending cuts via the “sequester,” which is scheduled to hit in January.

Congressional aides have said that the conference co-chairs, Sen. Patty Murray (WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1), are “talking almost every day,” but a partisan divide over potential “sequester” offsets seems to have halted progress. Half of the conferees hope to replace a portion of the “sequester” with revenue increases, while the other half would like to enact cuts to mandatory programs, including Social Security and Medicare. At this point, conferees on both sides are remaining steadfast in their positions.

It remains to be seen whether a deal will be reached before the December deadline – Congressional Quarterly reports that the prospects for an agreement are “dimming.” Discussions will likely continue behind closed doors over the upcoming weeks, and TSCL will continue to monitor the negotiations. Check back for updates every Friday.

TSCL Endorses Lock-Box Bill

This week, TSCL formally announced its support for Rep. Tim Walberg’s (MI-7) Social Security and Medicare Lock-Box Act (H.R. 1517). If signed into law, the bill would safeguard the Social Security and Medicare Part A Trust Funds and prevent lawmakers from using the monies for unrelated purposes. In addition, it would establish a commission to determine alternate forms of investment for the surplus funds.

Currently, because the Trust Funds are a part of the unified federal budget, Congress regularly uses the “excess funds” – those not immediately needed – for purposes other than to pay out benefits. TSCL believes that this practice is fundamentally unfair to current and future beneficiaries, and because both programs are facing insolvency within the next two decades, we believe it is now more important than ever for Congress to end the irresponsible practice. TSCL enthusiastically supports the Social Security and Medicare Lock-Box Act, and we look forward to working with Congressman Walberg in the coming months to help build support for it.

Two Bills Gain Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Glenn Thompson (PA-5) – signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (H.R. 2305), bringing the total up to forty-nine. 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.

In addition, three new cosponsors – Reps. Beto O’Rourke (TX-16), Ralph Hall (TX-4), and Brad Sherman (CA-30) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795) this week, bringing the total up to ninety-eight. 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 the PRIME Act and the Social Security Fairness Act, and we were pleased to see support grow for both of them this week.