Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We have had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.
Congress this week was sort of the entire U.S. in miniature form. The Senate came back to town to conduct business, but not all Senators agreed with that. Most Senators followed the rules for wearing face masks, but not all. Not all committee hearings were attended by all the members. Most Senators were careful about following the protocols that have been recommended by health care professionals, but not all.
The House of Representatives, on the other hand, did not come back to town and go into session because of the continuing coronavirus emergency. No official date has been set for the return of the House, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they will probably return sometime next week.
The main purpose for the Senate's return was to work on confirming to office many of the appointments of the Trump administration. These include leaders of many government departments as well as judicial appointments.
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New coronavirus legislation in the works
As with nearly every other aspect of our lives, the coronavirus has changed the agenda of Congress. Discussion of a fourth big spending bill to deal with the pandemic began this week and all three sides (House, Senate, and the President) have set out their preliminary positions.
But achieving bipartisan consensus on the next packages appears more difficult. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) says her starting point is up to $1 trillion in aid that cash-strapped states and local governments need to prevent layoffs of first responders and other workers, and to help make up for lost revenues amid business closures. She also wants an infusion of funds for the postal system, which President Trump previously blocked. Also, on her list are provisions to expand voting by mail.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R- Ky.) came under attack for criticizing state aid and suggesting some declare bankruptcy. He subsequently said he would consider such relief but not to address problems pre-dating the coronavirus crisis. McConnell insists that the next bill must contain language limiting liability for businesses as the economy reopens.
Legislation to help state is urgently needed because some of them are already cutting Medicaid. States are required by law to balance their budgets and Medicaid is one of the largest items in the budgets of many states. And of course, cuts to Medicaid hurt some of the most vulnerable seniors as well as others who could not otherwise afford the health care they need.
President Trump has said all week that he will not agree to pass further stimulus measures to combat the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak without a payroll tax cut. Trump has been advocating for a payroll tax cut since last summer, even before the pandemic, but it is opposed by most congressional Democrats and it is not clear the idea has much support among Republicans in Congress. Obviously, a payroll tax cut would have no benefit for Americans put out of work in the wake of the outbreak until they return to employment.
“We’re not doing anything without a payroll tax cut,” Trump said in a “virtual town hall” event hosted by Fox News at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington earlier this week.
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IMPORTANT: We Need Your Help
TSCL is very disappointed to hear President Trump continue to demand a payroll tax cut before he will agree to any new legislation dealing with the effects of the pandemic emergency.
During his campaign for President, and several times since, he has promised that he would protect Social Security and Medicare. Yet a payroll tax cut would result in untold damage to the stability of both programs and bring them dangerously close to insolvency.
At that point Congress would either must cut benefits in a major way or raise taxes to pay for continued benefits, something that Congress has refused to do for years.
Medicare part B was not paid for by increasing taxes but is paid for by borrowing money. So were the tax cuts that the President supported, and Congress passed in 2017.
Now, with the massive amounts of money being spent by Congress to deal with the coronavirus, which is all borrowed money, we cannot help but wonder what Congress will do when the trust funds for Social Security and Medicare become insolvent. There is still time to fix the programs if the trust funds remain as they are now but cutting the payroll would be devastating and would create a new crisis for seniors that we do not need and should not have to face.
Please join us in our drive to gather 100,000 signatures on a petition to the White House by clicking Here to sign our petition or by pasting this into your address bar: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/stop-calling-payroll-tax-cuts-and-preserve-social-security-and-medicare
If we get 100,000 signatures, we know that the President will hear our concerns because the White House will have to answer our petition.
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Fixing our dependence on China
The additional coronavirus emergency legislation is likely to crowd out many other items that were once on the Congressional priority lists for the summer. As a result, the list of other “must pass” legislation is increasingly small, with priority being given to bills to fund the federal government and renew Pentagon programs.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he still expects the House to consider regular fiscal year 2021 spending bills beginning in June. But Senate Leader McConnell has not discussed any timetable for the bills coming out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which must happen before the full Senate can consider the legislation. The Appropriations Committee got off to a late start, and it is not clear the committee will keep its summer working schedule. As a result, there is growing expectation that – once again - a continuing resolution will be needed to prevent a government shutdown on the eve of the election and that lawmakers will complete their work on the spending measures in a lame-duck session.
Despite all the tragedy and difficulty coming out of the pandemic emergency there is a little good news, in our opinion. The spread of the coronavirus has reignited the push in Congress to expand domestic manufacturing of drugs, and renewed concerns the U.S. relies too much on foreign medicine makers. As we have been seeing, the need for medications can be urgent during a pandemic and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have raised alarms about possible shortages.
There are now efforts for legislation to boost domestic manufacturing of pharmaceutical products. There is a new measure that would require the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to “convene a committee of experts to analyze the impact of U.S. dependence” on foreign medicines and to make recommendations to Congress. There is also an effort to use the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill to strengthen U.S.-based pharmaceutical manufacturing and advance “make it in America” policies that favor domestic drug-production plants.
This is all good news. In addition to the cost of pharmaceuticals, the simple availability of them is crucial for seniors, especially during times like this.
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Warning: Scams prey on seniors and others
Tragically, there are people who shamelessly try to take advantage of emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic to cheat other people out of money. Thankfully, federal agencies are mounting a multi-front attack on scams and quack cures in the wake of the crisis, an unprecedented coordinated effort that could continue for years to come.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed charges against more than half a dozen people accused of pushing silver products and other fake treatments for Covid-19. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has gotten the marketer of a Vitamin C supplement to stop claiming it can treat the virus. And the FTC and Food and Drug Administration have been sending dozens of joint warning letters to companies for touting unapproved treatments or preventatives.
Covid-19, for which there is neither a sure treatment nor vaccine, has created a perfect storm for fraudsters interested in preying on people who are vulnerable, frightened, and isolated. Their scams employ typical tactics of the defrauder's trade: empty promises of protection against a sometimes-fatal disease.
Here are some examples of scams being tried.
The DOJ in late March arrested a man in Southern California who allegedly orchestrated an investment scheme involving a bogus injectable cure for Covid-19. A week later, the DOJ filed charges against a man whose treatment allegedly involved a combination of Vitamin C, bee pollen, hydrogen peroxide, and prayer.
New criminal cases were filed in April against a Michigan doctor accused of pushing Vitamin C injections as a treatment, and a former “naturopathic” physician accused of peddling a “dynamic duo” of substances on Facebook that he claimed could kill the virus.
It is bad enough that non-medical professionals are involved in criminal activity like this but for a doctor to be part of it is outrageous.
PLEASE be careful – and remember, there is NO vaccine, cure, or proven treatment for the coronavirus at this time. Do not waste your money on some “medicine” that supposedly will treat or prevent you from getting sick.
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For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.