Happy first day of December! This week, lawmakers returned from the holiday recess to resume work on their plan to overhaul the tax code. In addition, one Senate committee met to consider the nomination of Alex Azar, a pharmaceutical executive who was selected by President Trump to become the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) also endorsed one new bill, and several key bills gained new cosponsors.
Senate Resumes Work on Tax Bill
This week, the Senate Budget Committee advanced legislation to comprehensively reform the tax code, and lawmakers in that chamber have been debating the bill since Wednesday. At the time of writing this week’s update, a vote on the Senate floor had not yet occurred, but is expected by Friday night. If the tax bill wins passage, it will move to a conference committee, where lawmakers in the House and Senate will need to iron out the differences between their two versions.
If signed into law, the Senate bill will permanently lower the corporate tax rate, temporarily reduce individual tax rates, and double the exclusion for the estate tax on the wealthiest Americans, among many other things. It will also repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate – a move that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts will increase health insurance premiums in the individual market by 10 percent and result in 4 million individuals losing their coverage.
Unlike the House bill, the Senate version does not include a repeal of the medical expense deduction, a deduction that approximately 5 million taxpayers over the age of sixty-five rely upon when their out-of-pocket medical costs total more than 10 percent of their annual income. It remains unclear whether this critical deduction will be eliminated in the final version of the bill, but TSCL will continue to advocate against its elimination.
TSCL will also be keeping a close eye on the automatic spending cuts that could be triggered next year if the tax bill is signed into law without adequate offsets. Language in the Statutory Pay-as-You-Go Act of 2010 prevents legislation from adding too much to the deficit. Due to the massive cost of the tax bill, the Medicare program could see $25 billion in cuts next year, and other critical programs like Meals on Wheels could see their budgets sliced. Lawmakers have said they will override these automatic cuts in the months ahead, but that remains uncertain.
As tax reform negotiations continue to evolve in the days ahead, TSCL will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website. In addition, our legislative team will continue to advocate on Capitol Hill for policies that would protect and improve the financial security of older Americans.
HHS Nominee Faces First Hearing
On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee met to consider the nomination of Alex Azar, a pharmaceutical executive who was selected by President Trump to become the next HHS Secretary. If confirmed, Mr. Azar will lead the department that runs major health programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and he will be tasked with monitoring the pharmaceutical industry, which he recently helped lead.
TSCL and many others in Washington have expressed concerns about the nomination of Mr. Azar due to his background in the pharmaceutical industry. Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) said at Wednesday’s hearing that his work experience “reads like a how-to manual from profiting from government service.” Senator Rand Paul (KY) also expressed concerns on Wednesday and asked Mr. Azar to support a policy that would allow individuals to import prescription drugs from approved pharmacies abroad. TSCL agrees that doing so would reduce costs significantly for consumers, and we hope the administration will seriously consider it.
Despite concerns about the nomination of Mr. Azar, TSCL is hopeful that if confirmed, he will act as a champion for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries at HHS. Our legislative team will continue to monitor the nomination proceedings in the Senate, and we will urge those at HHS to take steps that would reduce prescription costs for consumers. For updates, follow TSCL on Facebook or Twitter.
TSCL Endorses New Bill
This week, TSCL is happy to endorse new legislation entitled the SNAP Simplification for the Elderly Act. If enacted, the bill would streamline the application process for senior citizens to receive help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill would also encourage collaboration between local Social Security offices and the SNAP program to help seniors at risk of hunger enroll in both benefits simultaneously. TSCL thanks Congressman Albert Lawson (FL-5) for introducing this important new bill in the House of Representatives, and we look forward to working with his office in the months ahead to help build support for it.
Key Bills Gain Cosponsors
Within the past week The Senior Citizens League saw support grow for four endorsed bills.
One of The Senior Citizens League’s top legislative priorities, The Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1205), gained two new cosponsors in Representative A Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Representative Bradley Schneider (IL-10); these new cosponsors brought the total up to 163. If signed into law, H.R. 1205 will repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).
The Transparent Drug Pricing Act of 2017 (H.R. 4116) gained two new cosponsors in Representative Peter Wech (VT-01) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), bringing the cosponsor total up to 14. If signed into law, H.R. 4116 would mandate pharmaceutical manufacturing companies to report how and why they set drug prices to help bring more transparency to the industry
The Competitive DRUGS Act of 2017 (H.R. 4117) gained two new cosponsors in Representative Peter Welch (VT-01) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), bringing the cosponsor total up to 22 Representatives. If signed into law, H.R. 4117 would prohibit brand name pharmaceutical companies from paying generic drug companies to delay the introduction of their products to the market, an anti-competitive tactic known as "pay-for-delay."
The last bill that TSCL saw support grow for, The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act (H.R. 4138), gained one new cosponsor in Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-08) bringing the total to 18. If signed into law H.R. 4138 would mandate Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices on behalf of seniors.
The Senior Citizens League would like to thank all of the new Congressional cosponsors for supporting legislation that would improve the lives of older Americans. You can keep track of the status of these bills and more at our Bill Tracker web page.