Legislative Update for Week Ending October 30, 2015

Legislative Update for Week Ending October 30, 2015

This week, lawmakers in the House passed a two-year budget deal that will prevent next year’s 20 percent benefit cut for Social Security Disability Insurance enrollees. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw one key bill gain nine new cosponsors.

Sweeping Budget Deal Passes House

On Wednesday, lawmakers in the House passed a sweeping budget deal that will extend the federal government’s borrowing authority until March 2017 and keep it operating through fiscal year 2017. The $80 billion deal was passed with bipartisan support in a vote of 266-167. It will provide some relief from the spending limits set in place by the sequester four years ago, and it will avert next year’s 20 percent cut for Disability Insurance (DI) enrollees by strengthening the program’s financing.

The budget deal includes several provisions that TSCL supports enthusiastically. It will prevent the 50 percent Medicare Part B premium increase that was scheduled to hit around 15 million Medicare enrollees in January. Instead of the $55 monthly premium increase, they will be charged around $16 extra per month. The deal will also increase efforts to tackle fraud and waste within the DI program. It will expand cooperative disability investigation units, increase funding for continuing disability reviews, and prevent the use of disability evidence from unlicensed or sanctioned physicians. In addition, it will create a demonstration project that will test the effects of greater work incentives for DI enrollees.

Like any complex compromise, the deal also includes some provisions that TSCL is opposed to. For instance, it will extend for two more years the 2 percent pay cut to Medicare providers that was set in place in 2011 by the sequester. It also includes a reallocation of the payroll tax so that until 2018, the DI program will receive an extra 0.57 percent in taxes and Social Security’s retirement program will receive 0.57 percent less in revenues. Our members and supporters have overwhelmingly opposed a reallocation of the tax in recent polls and surveys. The plan will also eliminate the “file and suspend” practice, which allows older Americans with spouses to maximize their Social Security retirement benefits. According to Bloomberg Government, doing away with this practice could reduce lifetime benefits by as much as $50,000.

Upon passing the deal, now-retired Speaker John Boehner (OH-8) said, “For the second time this year, we have a bipartisan agreement to put in place significant, structural reforms to help save our entitlement programs for the families and seniors who rely upon them.” Despite our opposition to a few of the deal’s provisions, TSCL agrees and we are pleased that Congress successfully avoided a government shutdown, a default on the country’s financial obligations, a 20 percent benefit cut for disabled Social Security beneficiaries, and a 50 percent Medicare premium increase for millions of seniors.

The deal now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before Tuesday. TSCL will keep a close eye on the movement of the budget deal in the days ahead, and we will post updates on our new Facebook page.

Key Bill Gains Nine Cosponsors

This week, nine new cosponsors signed on to the Seniors Deserve a Raise Act (H.R. 3761), bringing the total up to fifty-two. The new cosponsors are: Reps. G.K. Butterfield (NC-1), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Yvette Clarke (NY-9), Sam Farr (CA-20), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), David Scott (GA-13), Louise Slaughter (NY-25), and Mark Takai (HI-1).

If signed into law, H.R. 3761 would do two things: it would give Social Security beneficiaries a 2.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) next year instead of the zero COLA the Social Security Administration announced two weeks ago, and it would base all future increases on an inflation index for the elderly. H.R. 3761 would make COLAs more fair and accurate for seniors, and we were pleased to see significant support grow for it this week.