Weekly Update for Week Ending September 5, 2020

Weekly Update for Week Ending September 5, 2020

Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits.  We've 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.


Congress Returns to Work this Week

The members of Congress return to Washington this week for a final burst of legislating during the remaining days in September.  Both the House and the Senate have scheduled 14 working days this month that begin Tuesday.  That means they have to pass legislation to fund the federal government for FY2021, which begins on October 1.  If they don’t the federal government would again shut down.

Congress is scheduled to be out of session during October so the members can go home and run for re-election or election to a new position, as the case may be.

The good news is that this weekend House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced they’ve agreed to work on what is called a “CR” – a continuing resolution that will fund the government at FY2020 levels.  Secretary Mnuchin said he hopes the CR will run until the first part of December, although that is yet to be determined.  This is gives Congress extra time to work on full funding legislation for the new fiscal year.

Mnuchin said he hopes progress will be made on the CR by the end of this week.  He also said he and Speaker Pelosi agreed that the CR will only be about funding the government on a temporary basis and will not include any discussion about a new coronavirus stimulus/economic aid bill.

The House has already passed all but one of the bills to fund the government for FY2021, but the Senate has not passed any.  In fact the Senate has not even passed any funding legislation out of committee, which is the step in the process that is supposed to happen before a bill goes to the Senate floor for a full vote.

It is highly unlikely that any other legislation that is controversial in any way will stand a chance of passing this month.  Any legislation of that type will be after Congress returns for a “lame duck” session after the November elections or will have to await the new Congress which will start in January.

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Social Security, Medicare Must be on the Top of New President’s Agenda

Last week we reported on the release of a new estimate from the Social Security Administration regarding the status of the Social Security Trust Fund if the halt to the collection of payroll taxes ordered by the President is made permanent.  That order is in effect from Sept. 1 through the end of this year and although the taxes are deferred they have to be repaid next year.  However, the President has said if he’s re-elected he will seek legislation to permanently eliminate those taxes.

The new report that came out last week said the Social Security disability trust fund would become insolvent by mid-2021 and the retirement trust fund would become permanently depleted by 2023, just three short years from now.

But as things stand right now there is no plan anywhere on how to shore up Social Security, even if the Payroll tax deferment is not made permanent.

Of course, Medicare would also be affected by a permanent reduction in payroll taxes.  And there is no plan to shore up Medicare, either.

So no matter who is elected, and no matter whether the deferred payroll taxes have to be repaid or not, when January arrives the new President and Congress will need to develop a plan to address both Social Security’s and Medicare’s solvency, and decide who will pay for it.

The choices for doing so fall into a few broad categories:

  • require Medicare beneficiaries or taxpayers to pay more to support the program
  • reduce the Social Security COLA each year below the inflation rate, which would mean every Social Security recipient would lose purchasing power
  • pay health care providers less for the care they provide to beneficiaries
  • increase how much the federal government spends on Medicare.

Each of these choices will have major opposition.  The first two would hit seniors at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives when so many depend totally on Social Security for their income and on Medicare for their health care.  Certainly TSCL will mount major campaigns to stop either of those from happening.

With unemployment at its highest level since the Great Depression, working Americans are not likely to accept new or higher taxes or paying more for Medicare services. Providers have suffered financially during the pandemic and paying them less would likely cause more to stop accepting Medicare payments, meaning fewer would accept Medicare patients. And increasing government spending on Medicare means either increasing the country’s debt or making cuts to other federally funded programs.

Even before the coronavirus emergency hit us, Medicare trustees had projected that the trust fund would become insolvent in 2026. That time frame has accelerated as payroll tax revenue flowing into the trust fund in the next few years is anticipated to be far lower due to the economic recession resulting from the pandemic.

At the same time, health care costs and money paying for those costs out of the trust fund are similar to pre-pandemic levels. In addition, per-enrollee payments, which pay for each person covered regardless of how much health care that person uses, and which play a growing role in Medicare, prohibit any reduction in health care spending.

Neither Presidential candidate has said a word about how they would propose to fix Social Security and Medicare.  But like it or not, those issues will be staring the new President in the face when he takes office in January.

As we said, you can be sure TSCL will be on the front lines fighting on your behalf when this new battle takes shape next year.

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Drug Executives Vow No Shortcuts in Vaccine Testing

President Trump has been predicting that a vaccine against the coronavirus will be available by the first of November this year.  This is in spite of the fact that most medical and scientific experts say that while that is possible, it is highly unlikely.

Unfortunately, the President’s prediction seems to have had the effect of raising skepticism among many Americans about whether a vaccine, once it becomes available, will be safe and effective.

In an effort to reassure the public, the chief executives of some of the top pharmaceutical companies in the country vowed last week that they will not bring any vaccine or treatment to market that does not meet rigorous safety and efficiency standards.

The top executive of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer told reporters “We will not cut corners."  Several other top drug company executives also committed to upholding stringent standards for safety and efficiency before requesting authorization for new coronavirus vaccines or treatments.  Those commitments included top executives from Eli Lilly, Merck, Gilead, and Roche which are some of the largest drug manufacturers in the world.

Under normal procedures, test administrators must wait for months or years to verify that vaccine candidates work and are safe.  But the US Food and Drug Administration has raised the possibility that a vaccine might be given emergency authorization before the end of trials.

As a result the FDA has faced allegations from the medical community that it is bowing to political pressure, something FDA officials have denied.

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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.