Legislative Update for Week Ending January 30, 2015

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 30, 2015

This week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its annual report on the state of the economy, and one Senate committee advanced legislation to re-authorize the Older Americans Act.

CBO Releases Annual Budget Report

On Monday, the CBO released its latest report on the economy’s ten-year outlook. According to the authors, the federal deficit will fall in fiscal 2015 and again in fiscal 2016, but it is projected to increase sharply in the following years, reaching $1.1 trillion in 2025.

Outlays within the Medicare program will grow by 3.4 percent in fiscal 2015, which is roughly half of the 7 percent average increase that was seen between 2003 and 2013. However, if lawmakers override a 21 percent pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients in April as they are expected to, Medicare spending in fiscal 2015 will be approximately $23 billion instead of the projected $17 billion.

Social Security’s outlays are projected to increase by $38 billion this year, according to the report’s authors, which is a similar rate of growth to last year’s. The number of beneficiaries is expected to grow by 1.9 percent, and it is estimated that the 2016 cost-of-living adjustment will be just 0.9 percent – the lowest payable COLA on record. From 2017 through 2025, COLAs will average 2.4 percent annually, the authors predict.

The CBO’s report officially kicks off this year’s budget negotiations. President Obama is expected to send his budget request to Congress on February 2nd, and later this spring, the House and Senate Budget Committees will offer up their own budget blueprints. Until then, TSCL will keep a close eye on the evolving discussions, and we will provide updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Senate Panel Approves Seniors Bill

On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced a bill that would reauthorize the Older Americans Act for the first time in nearly a decade. If signed into law, the bill would authorize funding for critical senior services and nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels.

The law’s last reauthorization expired back in 2011, and while the programs have received some financial support through the appropriations process, lawmakers have been unable to compromise on a funding formula for the legislation until now. The new formula would give more funding to the states with the fastest-growing senior populations, while limiting the loss in funding to states with slower-growing populations to 1 percent per year for three years.

Following Wednesday’s markup of the legislation, Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN) stated, “[The bill] went through this committee rapidly today, but it has taken a few years and a good amount of compromise.” Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), a key negotiator in the discussions, said, “I think that, given the rise in poverty among seniors and the waiting lists we’re seeing for many Meals on Wheels programs, I would have liked to make certain that we put more money into the program. But I think it’s a reasonable compromise.”

The legislation must be approved by the entire chamber and by lawmakers in the House before it can be signed into law. TSCL will continue to monitor its movement in the coming weeks.