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When Will Senator Ayotte Start Listening To The People On Protecting Our Earned Benefits?

Editor’s Note: Below is a cross-post from the NH Alliance for Retired Americans who have been working over the last year to meet with and talk to Senator Ayotte.  I believe Sen. Ayotte’s office has met with them once, they are obviously not listening to what the people are saying.  When I wrote to Sen. Ayotte about protecting Social Security and Medicare, I got the exact same form letter that Lucy attached below. 

Image and rights from the  NHARA

Image from the NH ARA

Senator Ayotte, You Are Not Listening

Written by Lucy Edwards
President of the NH Alliance for Retired Americans
Posted on the NH ARA Blog

I received an e-mail letter from Senator Ayotte on the subject of Social Security and Medicare (or as she calls them, “entitlements.”) I would like to suggest to her that if she REALLY is interested in making sure that these earned benefit programs are available into the future, she consider some really simple solutions.

First, to fund the Social Security Trust Fund so that it can pay benefits indefinitely, we could do some combination of the following:

  • Raise the minimum wage.  If incomes are higher, payments into the trust fund are higher.
  • Raise the income cap.  If higher earners have to pay on more of their earnings, the payments into the trust fund will be higher.
  • Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. If women earn more, their payments into the trust fund will be higher.
  • Vote for infrastructure funding and other stimulus programs to raise the number of jobs and the pay for workers.  If more people are working, and making decent incomes, the payments into the trust fund will be higher.  AND life both today and in retirement will be much better for ALL Americans.

I would also remind her that the Affordable Care Act is already lowering the rate of growth of healthcare costs, including Medicare.  More preventative care, less spending on high cost procedures, correcting the overpayments for Medicare Advantage policies, and reining in fraud will help keep costs under control.  Don’t repeal the ACA!

We could also discuss the use of the national debt (for which Republican presidents are mostly responsible) as a straw man (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man) but we will leave that for another discussion.

Here is her letter:

Thank you for contacting me regarding entitlement reform, particularly as it relates to Medicare and Social Security.  I appreciate hearing from you.

Our $17 trillion national debt threatens not only our economic prosperity but also our security and sovereignty.  I believe that it is my responsibility to analyze the underlying problems perpetuating the unsustainable growth in our federal debt and to make a real effort to solve them.  This includes evaluating all areas of the federal budget to determine where appropriate reductions can be made and making the necessary reforms to entitlement programs to ensure they are solvent for current and future generations.

Spending for major health and retirement programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, will increase in coming decades, putting greater pressure on the rest of the federal budget.  According to the Office of Management and Budget, in fiscal year (FY) 2013, 66 percent of all federal spending was on entitlement programs, net interest, and other social safety net programs.  Unless significant actions are taken to address these programs’ structural problems, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will grow to consume every dollar of revenue raised by the government.

I also understand the importance of these programs and am aware of how many Americans rely on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  As baby boomers continue to retire, health care costs and Social Security outlays will rise.

According to the most recent Medicare Trustees report, the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund has been running cash flow deficits since 2008.  The only thing keeping the program afloat financially is the sale of Treasury bonds in the Medicare Trust Fund – deficit spending.  According to the report, the Medicare HI Trust Fund will be insolvent by 2030.

In addition, the Social Security Trustees report that the Social Security program is now in a permanent cash flow deficit, meaning that as baby boomers retire, the Trust Funds are obligated to pay out more benefits than there are incoming payroll taxes.  This means that to pay benefits, the government must cut spending, raise taxes, or borrow more money from overseas to finance payments.  The Trustees estimate that the Social Security Trust Funds will have a shortfall of $9.6 trillion over the next 75 years and will be exhausted in 2033.  This means that in just 20 years beneficiaries would have to see a 23 percent benefit cut.

I believe we need to ensure the long-term viability of entitlement programs.  In strengthening entitlements, we should ensure that those in or near retirement will not be negatively impacted by any reforms.  However, the longer we put off reforming entitlements, the more difficult changes will be on those nearing retirement.  In order to strengthen entitlements, members of both parties will need to muster the political courage to stop putting off the tough decisions that need to be made in order to preserve these programs and protect the economic strength of our country.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me.  As your Senator, it is important for me to hear from you regarding the current issues affecting New Hampshire and our nation.  Please do not hesitate to be in touch again if I may be of further assistance.

Sincerely,
Kelly A. Ayotte
U. S. Senator

Expand Social Security, Don’t Cut It

Recently Richard Kirsch posted an article on The Next New Deal website.  The article ‘Block a Grand Bargain with Bold Progressive Solutions to and Medicare’ warns of what seniors and progressives have feared for a while cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

During the campaign season almost every politician said they would vote to protect Social Security and Medicare.  As a political observer it is political suicide to come right out and say you want to cut benefits to millions of seniors.

Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

In spite of opposing cuts to Social Security on the campaign trail, President Obama is in favor of making changes to it.

“To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA IN THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS, JANUARY 25, 2011

Republican leadership understands how Social Security works.

The money that goes into Social Security is not the government’s money. It’s your money. You paid for it.”Mitch McConnell

The major issue that seems to be pushing changes to Social Security comes from this widely held myth that ‘Social Security is bankrupting America’.  However the truth is quite the opposite and Senator Bernie Sanders knows it.

“Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.” —Bernie Sanders

Now that the government is back open with a temporary band-aid (Continuing Resolution) this idea of a ‘grand bargain’ is once again alive.  As part of the Continuing Resolution passed by Congress it mandated that both houses of Congress would meet in a ‘committee of conference’ and hammer out a real long-term budget.   This round of budget negotiations opens up so many different cans of worms.  There is the forced budget cuts known as the Sequester, reforms to ‘entitlements’ (Social Security, Medicare), the Keystone Pipeline, immigration, and many more.

The idea of a grand bargain needs very careful treatment. As Kirsch said in his post, progressives should to go on the offense when it comes to Social Security.

By putting forward simple, broadly popular, progressive proposals that actually enhance benefits and add money to Social Security and Medicare, we enable Democratic allies in Congress to set the agenda and counter claims that they are not taking action to address the real solvency problems. And we also help set the agenda for the inevitable future deal to address both programs’ financing. 

Here are two simple, popular, powerful proposals. On Social Security, make the richest 5% people pay into Social Security on all their earnings, just like 95% of workers now do. Use the new revenue to both boost Social Security benefits – which are too low – and extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust fund. On Medicare, slash the cost of prescription drug prices just like the Veterans Administration and all our global competitors do, saving hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade.” (Emphasis added)

Finally someone has a solution that ends this debate about Social Security that fixes it for decades.  By eliminating the cap on income for Social Security, millions of dollars would be added to the trust fund.  This would allow Congress to strengthen Social Security so much that the trust fund would have “enough money to pay all benefits from 2033 to 2049”.

Changes that would strengthen Social Security and provide better benefits to seniors have already been submitted to both houses of Congress (H.R.3118, S.567). Kirsch says this “would boost benefits in two ways: changing the way benefits are calculated (designed to particularly help low-and-moderate income seniors) and changing the inflation adjuster Social Security uses to the CPI-E, which more accurately captures what seniors pay. This is exactly the opposite of the chained CPI proposed by President Obama, which undercounts what seniors typically purchase.”

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) has been a strong advocate for strengthening Social Security.  In a recent email newsletter she stated why protecting Social Security is so important.

“More than one-third of Granite Staters over 65 would be living in poverty if they did not receive Social Security. And it’s not just seniors who benefit from this program.  Over one-third of beneficiaries in New Hampshire are spouses and families of workers who become disabled or die prematurely, including over 20,000 children.”

The other earned benefit that people on the hill like to talk about is Medicare.  Kirsch also suggests that we enlarge the Medicare program to help everyone.

Using its (Medicare’s) enormous purchasing power to get the same kind of low drug prices paid by the Veterans Administration or every other country on the globe. While estimates of the savings vary, they clearly would be substantial, tens of billions each year, much more than the cuts to Medicare included in the President’s budget.”

Again this type of solution has already been proposed in Congress.  Kirsch goes on to say that this solution “would work to make the point that we can strengthen Medicare by stopping the drug companies from ripping off the country”.

While we stand with the President on most legislative issues, we need to be cautious as we move forward with changes to Social Security and Medicare.  We cannot accept any type of cuts to earned benefits or quick fixes that add only a few years to the programs.  We need strong straightforward solutions that push to increase benefits, not erode them.   We need to stay united in our efforts to protect Social Security and Medicare for our seniors now to ensure that the program is there when the next generation retires.

Changing the Conversation – Earned Benefits are NOT Entitlements

(Photo by Robert Neff)

Social Security and Medicare are not “entitlements” – except in the sense that everyone should be entitled to the money (including interest) that they deposit in a bank account.

Our grandparents, parents and now you and I pay into these programs with every check we receive.  Pull out your paystub and look.  You will see deductions for FICA and for Medicare.  Why are these programs being included in conversations surrounding the “Fiscal Cliff”? 

For decades now, right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation have been telling us we must “replace the culture of entitlements with one of mutual responsibility.”  But workers have always been responsible.  The only irresponsibility here belongs to Congress, who started borrowing from our fund  beginning in the Reagan years.

The Social Security Act of 1935 was a bipartisan accomplishment.  Politicians on both sides of aisle knew that disabled veterans returning from war, widows with dependent children and retirees to old to work, needed help.  This was not a government handout – it was a plan through which each employee would pay an income tax.  The money would be pooled together, and with interest, payments would be made to qualified recipients.

Why are some politicians trying to make us believe that Social Security is bankrupt?  The NH Sentinel Source.com reported in April 2011 that, “working Americans have paid so much in Social Security payroll taxes during the past three decades that they have built up a $2.6 trillion surplus in the account.”  Unfortunately, this account is now filled with “IOU’s” – and some politicians prefer to change the rules rather than looking at long-term solutions.

Senator Kelly Ayotte is one who believes that Social Security should be cut.  She voted for the Ryan Budet, which, according to the Kaiser Foundation, would harm 3.3 million people between the ages of 65-66.  This is not a reasonable answer or solution to the country’s fiscal situation.  Politicians should be protecting – not sacrificing – these programs that employees have paid into, all these decades.

It is up to all of us as American workers to ensure these programs will be there when we need them.  This begins with changing the conversation – and in particular, the wording.  Social Security and Medicare are not entitlements but Earned Benefits.  Our politicians must understand we will not give up on what is rightfully ours.

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