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.
Our nation is in a hyper-partisan period as the November elections approach. In this environment it becomes tricky when reporting about issues that affect you and other TSCL supporters because the issues are so often intertwined with politics.
We want to assure you that we will try to report the facts as we understand them and keep elective politics out of it.
No Government Shutdown Until at least December
As we reported recently, Congress faces a deadline of October 1 to pass legislation to fund the federal government for the 2021 fiscal year. We are now past the middle of September and they have finally agreed in principle on legislation to fund the government, but only on a temporary basis.
The funding will go through Dec. 11, by which time they hope to have passed the funding legislation necessary to run the government for the rest of new fiscal year. The House plans to vote on the temporary legislation, called a “CR,” which stands for “continuing resolution,” early this week, after which the Senate will follow.
While the House has passed 10 of the 12 bills necessary for funding the entire fiscal year, the Senate has not passed any. They hope to pass all 12 funding bills and send them to the President for his signature after the elections but before December 11. If they are unable to pass all 12 funding bills before they adjourn by the end of the year, they will again pass a CR and throw the funding decisions into next year and to the new Congress.
However, that carries risks because the elections could change which party controls either or both houses of Congress, as well as who the next President will be. But at least for now, there will be no government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins.
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Congress has Tight September Schedule
Congress already had an extremely tight schedule for the rest of September before the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday. With her death and the pledges by the President to quickly nominate a new justice and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to push through a vote on the nominee before the end of the year, the Senate’s schedule is now unclear.
Prior to Justice Ginsburg’s death, the Senate’s schedule included a recess from Oct. 12 until Nov. 6. The House had no votes scheduled from Oct. 5 to Nov. 15. Majority Leader McConnell had set up votes on five district court nominations to begin the September work period, continuing his push to confirm President Donald Trump’s judges to the federal bench.
The House had planned the first week for committee activity, with the next floor votes scheduled on Sept. 14.
There continues to be no agreement on new coronavirus aid legislation with differences not only between the House Democratic majority and the President, but now with the President has indicated he wants to spend more money on an aid bill than the Senate Republican majority.
Other legislation Congress needs to deal with this month includes extending federal-aid highway programs and taxes that are due to expire Sept. 30. Action is also needed to prevent the expiration of the National Flood Insurance Program on Sept. 30, something that would seem to be must-pass legislation because of the hurricanes and tropical storms that are continuing to batter the U.S. gulf coast.
Other programs set to expire at the end of November include the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program and some Medicare and Medicaid programs. And more than 30 tax provisions, including the work opportunity and energy tax credits will expire before the end of the year if Congress takes no action.
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Plan to allow Drug Importation from Canada Could Come Soon
In spite of objections from drug makers, it is expected that the Trump administration will soon announce its plan to allow states to import some prescription drugs from Canada, something the President has pledged to do for a long time.
According to a report in Kaiser Health News, some observers believe the elections are playing a big part in this move because Florida, a state which President Trump must win if he is to be re-elected, will likely be the first state that’s allowed to import the drugs.
Canada has price controls on its drugs and therefore they are generally cheaper than in the U.S., where the market, in theory, sets the prices although it’s a very complicated system that actually includes more than just the market.
Drug makers are objecting to this policy and are expected to sue the federal government if it is put in place, claiming it violates both the U.S. Constitution and federal laws.
In addition, the Canadian government has made known its objections to the policy. It says the Canadian drug industry is too small to provide prescription drugs for both its own citizens and for the U.S. market.
The Canadian government has stated it will do whatever is necessary to safeguard the availability of drugs for Canadians. Resistance on the part of Canada is very important because many who have studied the situation believe that without cooperation by the Canadian government, the drug importation plan would fail.
TSCL has long supported drug importation from other countries as a way to lower drug prices if appropriate safeguards are put in place.
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Legislation Introduced to Forgive Deferred Payroll Taxes
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, has introduced legislation that would make the deferral of payroll taxes from Sept. 1 through the end of the year permanent. His legislation calls it a “Payroll Tax Holiday” but whatever it is called, it would result in an extremely serious threat to the Social Security program.
As we’ve reported in the past, an analysis by the Social Security Administration on the viability of Social Security if the President’s payroll tax deferral is made permanent said in part, the “ DI [Disability Insurance] Trust Fund asset reserves would become permanently depleted in about the middle of calendar year 2021, with no ability to pay DI benefits thereafter. We estimate that OASI[Old Age and Survivors’ Insurance] Trust Fund reserves would become permanently depleted by the middle of calendar year 2023, with no ability to pay OASI benefits thereafter.”
Brady’s legislation would make up for any shortfall in the Social Security Trust Funds by transferring funds from the general treasury. However, replacing a dedicated payroll tax with income taxes or other general fund revenues would fundamentally alter Social Security. Its status as a social insurance program, funded by a dedicated tax (or contribution), would be muddled at best. Instead of operating as a guaranteed entitlement supported by that dedicated tax, it would be subject to annual meddling by Congress.
Congress is already unable to finish the work it has on its plate without adding on something as critically important to the seniors of this country as Social Security.
TSCL is opposed to the Brady legislation or any legislation that would permanently forgive the payroll taxes now being deferred because of the President’s order. We are glad to see that very few companies and even large parts of the federal government are refusing to implement the payroll tax deferral.
As a final note, last week we reported that the President’s payroll tax deferral order was not being widely followed. Since that report, both the Senate and the Supreme Court have joined the House of Representatives in declining to implement the program.
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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.