This week, Members of Congress reached an agreement to end the government shutdown and increase the debt ceiling. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three key bills gain support.
Lawmakers End Fiscal Impasse
On Wednesday night, after a sixteen-day government shutdown and just hours before the nation was set to hit the debt ceiling, Members of Congress passed a bipartisan measure to end the fiscal impasse. Regarding the compromise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) stated, “It’s never easy for two sides to reach consensus ... Sometimes [it’s] harder than others. This time was really hard.”
The agreement that the two sides reached will fund the government through January 15th, and it will extend the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority until February 7th. However, it leaves unresolved the spending levels for fiscal 2014, and it remains to be seen whether or not additional automatic budget cuts under the “sequester” will occur in January.
In order to iron out these details, the package calls for the creation of a bicameral budget conference. In addition to deciding upon next year’s spending levels, some feel that the twenty-nine conferees may also tackle an overhaul of the tax code, along with changes to entitlement programs. The panel will be led by the Budget Committee Chairs from both Chambers – Sen. Patty Murray (WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1) – and it will be required to report back to Congressional leaders by December 13th. Should the conferees fail to reach a consensus, the government could face another shutdown on January 15th, and a default on February 7th.
At this point in time, it is highly uncertain whether or not the budget panel will successfully reach a deal before the December deadline. However, TSCL will monitor its progress in the coming weeks, and we will continue to inform Members of Congress about the harms that would result from harsh benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare. For updates on the negotiations, visit the Legislative News section of our website.
Three Bills Gain Support
One new cosponsor – Rep. Cathy Castor (FL-14) – signed on to Rep. Ted Deutch’s (FL-21) Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act (H.R. 649) this week, bringing the cosponsor total up to twenty-seven. If signed onto law, Rep. Deutch’s bill would base the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment upon the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, and it would gradually eliminate the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. Rep. Deutch’s bill would reportedly extend the solvency of the Trust Fund considerably, while also making COLAs more fair and accurate.
In addition, eight new cosponsors signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (H.R. 2305), bringing the total up to forty-six. The new cosponsors are: Reps. Earl Perlmutter (CO-7), Ron Kind (WI-3), James Renacci (OH-16), Richard Hanna (NY-22), Daniel Webster (FL-10), Michael Michaud (ME-2), Peter Welch (VT), and Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1). If signed into law, H.R. 2305 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.
Also, one new cosponsor – Rep. Julia Brownley (CA-26) – signed on to the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act (H.R. 3090), bringing the total up to forty-five. If signed into law, the bill would expand the federal definition of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It would also incorporate elder abuse prevention trainings, screenings, and reporting protocols into all senior service access points that receive federal funding under the bill. H.R. 3090 would take an important step in preventing elder abuse – a problem that affects an estimated 14.1 percent of all non-institutionalized older adults each year.
TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 649, H.R. 2305, and H.R. 3090, and we were pleased to see support grow for each of them this week.