Tonight: Rep. Kuster Hears from NH Seniors

Rep Annie Kuster in US House

 Congresswoman Annie Kuster to Host ‘Telephone Town Hall’ to Hear from New Hampshire Seniors

 On the call, Congresswoman Kuster will discuss her work to protect Social Security and Medicare

Rep Annie Kuster in US HouseWASHINGTON, D.C. – Tonight, March 25th, Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) will host a live telephone town hall to hear directly from New Hampshire seniors about the importance of protecting Social Security and Medicare. Seniors from throughout the district will participate in the call, and will also discuss other issues that are important to seniors in the Granite State.

During the call, Congresswoman Kuster will take questions from her constituents, and will discuss her own legislative efforts to protect the programs that New Hampshire seniors rely on like Social Security and Medicare.  Among other topics, the Congresswoman will discuss her opposition to using chained CPI to calculate Social Security, a move which could significantly reduce benefits for our seniors; how closing the Medicare Part D Donut hole has saved New Hampshire seniors thousands of dollars in prescription drug costs; and her ideas to create additional savings for our seniors by allowing the government to negotiate for cheaper prescription drugs for Medicare recipients.

New Hampshire Retirees hold Sen. Ayotte accountable

NH Alliance For Retired Americans Ayotte Protest

NH Alliance For Retired Americans Ayotte Protest

by Jennifer Kenny

MANCHESTER, NH — The voting record of Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte has drawn the ire of New Hampshire retirees.  Unable to secure an appointment with her, they are demanding that Social Security be improved by picketing in front of her Manchester and Nashua offices.

The retiree members of the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans (NH ARA) have been  requesting to meet with Ayotte since the summer of 2013.  Initially this seemed like an easy ask.  Considering that the U. S. Senate designates multiple days for travel, in-district workshops, holiday and summer recess, the NH ARA members thought their request was reasonable.

Top that off with the fact that Ayotte holds a post on the prestigious U.S. Special Committee on Aging, and NH ARA represents over 13.000 retirees — a meeting just makes good sense.  After all, wouldn’t this type of meeting help her to better understand her constituency?

But stopping by her office, calling for an appointment, speaking with staff, requesting a meeting through mutual acquaintances, showing up at town hall meetings did not work.  Even holding signs in front of the Senator’s Manchester and Nashua offices in the summer heat and the winter cold and snow has not resulted in a meeting.

Ayotte apparently does not want to be held accountable for her votes on 49 health care related bills, most of which have to do with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  The bills range from anti-choice measures, delaying portions of enacting the Affordable Care Act, and wiping out the law in whole or in part.

Ayotte is a co-sponsor of S. 1711 the State Health Care Choice Act which allows states to opt-out and limit required coverage.  The NH ARA wants to know why.  Does Ayotte want to reopen the dreaded donut hole that caused financial hardship to seniors and other Medicare recipients that rely on expensive prescription medications?

Perhaps she is not in favor of the clause that prevents insurance companies from arbitrarily canceling a customer’s policy when the customer becomes ill, or maybe it is the free preventative care wellness doctor appointments that she objects to.

The NH ARA is left guessing if Senator Ayotte would deny our grandchildren the right to remain on their parents health plan until they turn 26 years of age or perhaps the lifetime and yearly coverage limits that the insurance companies were allowed to  impose prior to the Affordable Care Act?

Maybe Ayotte objects to holding insurance companies accountable to their customers by proving 80% of the premium paid is used for the purpose of insurance and that only 20% of the premium is allowable for CEO pay and profits.   Considering her unwillingness to meet with the NH ARA, they may never know.

The retirees also want to learn how their Senator justifies raising the eligibility age for full retirement Social Security benefits, and why she hasn’t signed on to S 567.  This bill would establish a price index that reflects actual costs of items for Social Security recipients and insures Cost of Living increases  keep pace with inflation.

The occasional town hall meetings hosted by Ayotte are well scripted and controlled. She makes a slide show presentation and only takes questions that are pre-printed on index cards prior to the start of the meeting. Late comers are not allowed access to a card.

The NH ARA monitors legislation. These retirees have ideas and questions and remain hopeful that one of these days, Senator Ayotte will meet with them.  In  the meantime, they continue to show up with signs and keep asking for a meeting with the Senator at one of her many New Hampshire locations.

Ayotte is not up for re-election in 2014.  New Hampshire’s Democratic senior Senator Jeanne Shaheen is one of the 36 Senators up for election this year.  Shaheen’s race is one of the top targets by the Republican Party.  They want to grab control of the U. S. Senate and impose Ayotte’s agenda on our nation’s retirees and people.  New Hampshire retirees already have their walking shoes ready to make sure this does not happen.

Rep Annie Kuster Releases ‘Middle Class Jobs And Opportunity Agenda’

Ann kuster head shot LG

Blueprint reflects ideas and input Kuster heard from Granite Staters all across NH’s second district over the past year about how Congress can help create jobs and opportunity for hardworking families

Agenda focuses on common sense, bipartisan ideas to train a highly-skilled workforce; foster innovation; strengthen manufacturing; support small business; build a 21st Century infrastructure; protect the NH Advantage; and more

Ann kuster head shot LGKuster: Our top priority in 2014 must be helping create jobs and opportunity for middle class families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Marking the start of her second year in office, Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) this week released her Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Agenda, a blueprint that reflects ideas and input she has heard from Granite Staters all across New Hampshire’s second district over the past year. Since taking office, Kuster has traveled to every corner of the second district to hear from educators, entrepreneurs, workers, and families about how Congress can help create jobs and grow the economy. Their thoughts and ideas form the foundation of the Jobs and Opportunity Agenda, which outlines a series of common sense, bipartisan steps – ranging from doubling down on investments in innovation and job training, to streamlining government programs – that Congress can take to help small business owners and middle class families achieve their goals.

“From day one, my top priority in Congress has been helping create jobs and opportunity for middle class New Hampshire families,” Kuster said. “That’s what my Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Agenda is all about. This plan takes ideas from all across New Hampshire’s second district and shapes them into a cohesive vision that can help to create jobs and grow the economy, both here in the Granite State and all across the country.”

From supporting small business to reducing the deficit in a balanced way, the Jobs and Opportunity Agenda touches on a wide range of issues. It includes proposals to increase investments in workforce development; protect access to affordable higher education; and provide tax credits to companies relocating to the United States, among many others.

Kuster will highlight the plan and continue the conversation with Granite Staters throughout 2014. She will start this week with the launch of her Jobs and Opportunity tour, which will include business visits and roundtables, among other events, in Hanover, Claremont and Plymouth, among other locations.

The full text of Kuster’s Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Agenda is available here.

Excuse me, Mr. Donohue, WHO is “Taking from the Young”?!!

grandfather

grandfatherNo.  Just…no.

As a parent, I am absolutely revolted by Tom Donohue’s apparent attempt to incite a political war between the generations.

Yes, I understand that as America’s top business lobbyist, he would prefer the federal government to cut spending on Social Security and Medicare.

And yes, if the federal government spends less money taking care of our senior citizens, there will be more money available for corporate handouts.

But from my own perspective, the federal government already spends enough money on corporate handouts.  The average American family is now paying $6,000 a year in subsidies to big business.

Yet, based on yesterday’s speech, it looks to me like Mr. Donohue is willing to pit children against their grandparents, in order to get even more.

wealth share 1983-2010Mr. Donohue: it’s not our senior citizens who are “taking” wealth away from the next generation.

Look at what’s happened to the distribution of wealth since Ronald Reagan was President. 

Sixty percent of households LOST wealth… while those at the top of the economic ladder gained massively.

Look at what’s happened to annual income since Ronald Reagan was President.

income gains 1986-2008All the growth went to the richest 10%, while incomes for the bottom 90% declined.

The pattern holds true even during the current economic “recovery”.  According to economist Emmanuel Saez, “The top 1% captured 95% of the income gains.”

So yes, Mr. Donohue, it looks like this next generation will end up with a lot less than their grandparents had.

But no, Mr. Donohue.  It’s not our senior citizens who are “taking” that wealth away.

And you’re not going to start an inter-generational political war, to distract us from what’s really going on.

Today, public employee retirements; Tomorrow, the rest of America

constitution

constitution
Yesterday was NOT a good day for public sector workers who think they can rely on long-promised pension benefits.

  • Detroit: Yesterday, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled that even the state constitution did not protect workers’ retirement benefits.
  • Illinois: Yesterday, the state Legislature passed a law reducing pension benefits and prohibiting collective bargaining on pensions.

Both of these violations of workers’ rights are being justified on the theory that the retirement systems are in such “dire” shape.  The rhetorical focus is on the “funding ratio”: comparing what the system has now, in assets, with the total benefits it will have to pay out in the future.

In household budget terms, this is like comparing your current bank balance with the total amount of the mortgage or rent payments you are expected to make over the next 20 years.  (Try doing that math, and you’ll understand how the “pension reform” disciples come up with their doomsday scenarios.  They’re doing it with Social Security, too; so what is happening to public employees now will probably happen to the rest of America very, very soon.)

Ok, so… maybe the retirement systems’ current funding ratio is “dire”.  Whose fault is that?

During the 2007-2008 Wall Street meltdown, public pension systems across America lost more than a trillion dollars in value.  (Yes, that’s “trillion” – with a “T”.)  Most public pension systems had already lost millions or billions in the 2001 recession.

But now that public pensions are a trillion dollars underfunded, they’re being attacked as “unaffordable” – and somehow, it’s all the fault of public workers.

  • Illinois:  In FY2000, back before the first Bush recession, the State Employees’ Retirement System was more than 80% funded, and the Teachers’ Retirement System was almost 70% funded.

But… instead of going after all those Wall Street folks who lost all that public pension fund money… our politicians are going after rank-and-file public employees.  (By the way: Wall Street bonuses are gong up by 5% to 15%, this year.)

Think this isn’t your fight? because it’s all the way out in Detroit?  or because it’s “just” public employee unions?

Think again.

The same folks who have been busy “reforming” public sector retirement benefits are also out to “reform” Social Security.

 

 

Granite Staters Rally At Sen Ayotte’s Office In National Day Of Action To Protect Social Security

Ayotte Dec. 3, 2013

Ayotte Dec. 3, 2013Statement from New Alliance for Retired Americans President Lucy Edwards at the National Day of Action event in Nashua NH 

As the president of the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans, a grassroots volunteer group of senior citizens representing 13,000 NH retirees, I am here today with others fighting to save our Social Security and Medicare benefits from any “grand bargain” between the President and Congress.  Right now in Washington DC, a committee of House and Senate members is trying to agree on a budget that could pass both houses of Congress and get the President’s signature.  Our junior Senator, Kelly Ayotte, is one of these members and that is why we are here today.

For many of us, including me, cuts to these earned benefits would mean the loss of our economic security in retirement.  Do not be fooled by those who tell you that there are no seniors in NH who are all or mostly dependent on Social Security for their income, or for whom turning Medicare into a voucher program to buy insurance on our own would most likely mean increased ill-health and even early death.  We’re out here today because we must be getting the word out. This is not some political game played in DC, this is very real and very frightening to many of us.

And let me say that I and my fellows worry about our children and grandchildren as well.  We are not “greedy geezers!”  When a politician says to me that any changes to the programs will not affect anyone over 55, the first people who pop into my mind are my daughters and their husbands!  When a politician says to me that raising the eligibility age for these programs would be fine because people are living longer, I think of all the people I know who have been without health insurance until now, and wonder if they will even be able to work til 65.

What we really need in this age of the 401(k) and “you’re on your own” retirement plans, and proposals such as the Chained CPI, is something like Senator Harkins’ bill, the Strengthen Social Security Act of 2013, which would fit a Consumer Price Index for us seniors to our true costs, including healthcare costs.  The Chained CPI would cut benefits now AND in the future, leaving us with shrinking incomes just at the time when we need the funds the most.

We are here to remind Senator Ayotte of this, and even more important, to remind our fellow citizens that we need to fight for our rights, including the right to a secure retirement.  Don’t let a “grand bargain” steal what we worked so hard for!

Thank you all for coming!

Lucy Edwards

(You can follow the NH Alliance for Retired Americans on twitter @NH_ARA and via their blog)

Judge’s ruling: giving more power to Congress, jeopardizing Detroit retirees

IOU in a piggy bank by Images of Money via Flikr

IOU in a piggy bank by Images of Money via FlikrSo, earlier today a federal judge ruled that Detroit’s “Emergency Manager” could go ahead with bankruptcy proceedings – and, as part of the bankruptcy, cut public pension benefits that would otherwise be protected by Michigan’s state Constitution.

Judge Rhodes ruled Tuesday that Michigan’s [constitutional] protections for public pensions “do not apply to the federal bankruptcy court,” adding that pensions are not entitled to “any extraordinary attention” compared with other debts.  (Read the New York Times article here.)

Think about that, carefully – because to me, that is the single most frightening part of this whole situation.  The judge held that federal bankruptcy law trumps a state constitution.

One more time: according to this morning’s ruling, a law passed by Congress can invalidate a provision of a state constitution.

Take a minute and look at all those rights guaranteed by the New Hampshire Constitution.  (Read it here.)

Now, think about what it means, if Congress has the power to take those freedoms away.

Article 7 of the New Hampshire Constitution:
The people of this state have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves as a free, sovereign, and independent state; and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy every power, jurisdiction, and right, pertaining thereto, which is not, or may not hereafter be, by them expressly delegated to the United States of America in congress assembled.

How does that work, if state constitutions can be trumped by a federal law?

Read previous NH Labor News coverage of the Detroit situation here.

Read the statement from AFT President Randi Weingarten on this ruling here.

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Meanwhile, in Illinois, the state Legislature is meeting behind closed doors to discuss a legislative proposal to cut public pension benefits.  The bill was formally filed yesterday.  The vote is expected later today.

Read yesterday’s NH Labor News story about Illinois here.

 

Will the Illinois Legislature Steal Public Workers’ Retirement Security?

Smashed Piggy Bank Retirement

Smashed Piggy Bank RetirementAnd so the campaign to eliminate our retirement security continues.

As everyone was leaving for Thanksgiving weekend, Illinois legislators announced a “bipartisan” plan to “bail out” the state’s public pension funds.

That was Wednesday.  (LATE Wednesday.)

Details of the plan weren’t released until Friday.  (Increased retirement age.  Limits on COLAs.  Prohibits collective bargaining regarding pensions.  Prohibits use of pension funds for retiree health care. Etc.)

The actual bill was released today. (All 325 pages of it.)

The Legislature is expected to vote on the plan tomorrow (Tuesday).

And Chicago hedge fund honcho Ken Griffin spent Thanksgiving weekend beating his PR drums about the “the dire state of our pension situation.”  (Yeah, that WOULD be the very same Ken Griffin who, along with his wife: “were the top donors in the 2010 election cycle to Republicans running for Illinois legislative seats.”  That’s according to a Chicago Tribune analysis, which also tallied millions of dollars in other political contributions the Griffins have made to conservative political organizations.)

Can’t help but notice another context to the timing.  Today is the filing deadline for next year’s elections.  When legislators vote on the pension system revisions tomorrow, they will know what candidates they will be facing when they campaign for reelection.

Hey, I’ll agree with one thing Ken Griffin said in his weekend PR blitz: “We need political courage and a willingness to face painful truths.”

The “painful truth” here is: this is being pitched as a “bipartisan proposal” authored by the Democratic legislative leadership.

And it’s clearly the next step on the path toward eliminating retirement security… not just for public employees in Detroit, or Illinois… but also for Social Security participants throughout the country.  (Remember the “bipartisan proposal” from Simpson/Bowles?)

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Read “Going behind the rhetoric on public employee pensions” here.

Read “Detroit’s pension systems: not ‘unaffordable’, just battered by Wall Street” here.

New Hampshire Citizens To Rally Against Cuts To Social Security At Sen. Ayotte’s Office

NH Citizens Alliance

Below is a message from Olivia Zink, Director of the NH Citizens Alliance

NH Citizens Alliance

Have you ever seen a movie, thought it was awful, and then been horrified to learn there was actually going to be a sequel?

That’s how we feel about yet another looming fight over our country’s budget. “The Budget Battle: The Sequel No One Wants” is not a movie anybody wants to see.

But some Republicans are insisting we watch it. Their hostage-taking has forced a sequel of the same manufactured debt crisis. Right now, Republicans on the Budget Committee—like committee Chair Paul Ryan—are trying to get Democrats to keep the sequester in place and agree to even more austerity pain by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

Senator Kelly Ayotte is on the Budget Committee. Tell her to oppose any plan that includes benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Stop the cuts to Social Security by reducing the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA).

Who: Advocates for Social Security and Medicare
What: Rally and message delivery
Where: Nashua office of Senator Kelly Ayotte
144 Main Street, Nashua
When: Tuesday December 3, 12:00 noon

You can make a difference. Senator Ayotte is on the powerful Senate Conferees Committee who will vote on December 13th . Let make sure she hears from NH voters loud and clear that NH voters do not wants CUTS our Social Security.

Thank you for helping us send a powerful and personal message to all members of Congress: Let’s get to work on creating the sequel to the budget battle that working people, not extremist lawmakers and their corporate funders, want to see.

NH’s Congresswomen are united in opposition to cuts to Social Security

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As part of last month’s agreement to end the 16-day government shutdown, a Conference Committee on the 2014 Budget was created. The committee was tasked with shaping an agreement on a federal budget for fiscal year 2014.  These negotiations will determine the financial security for millions of seniors.

New Hampshire’s Congresswomen Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster are standing strong against proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  Both oppose the use of a ‘chained CPI’ to calculate the cost of living for Social Security.  This week Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster both signed onto to a letter (below) to co-chairs of this newly formed budget committee.

“The conference must reject policy reforms that place Medicare and Social Security benefits on the chopping block,” Shea-Porter and lawmakers wrote. “Too often, we hear of proposals to drastically slash benefits provided through these critical programs. These proposals are presented under the guise of fiscal responsibility, but would jeopardize the livelihood and health of the millions of seniors who depend on Social Security and Medicare.”

“As you work with your colleagues on the conference committee for the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, we urge you to support policies that prioritize America’s seniors and the benefits that they have earned over a lifetime of hard work,” Kuster and other lawmakers wrote. “While we understand that you and your fellow conferees will have to make difficult decisions to find common ground, we believe that any compromise the conference produces must protect Medicare and Social Security for current and future generations.”

Shea-Porter has strongly defended the role that Medicare and Social Security play in providing a secure retirement for millions of Americans. In February, she wrote to President Obama urging him to reject proposals to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as he works with Congress to address our nation’s fiscal challenges. She has cosponsored the Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013, legislation that would improve benefits for current and future Social Security beneficiaries, and has spoken out against chained CPI and other cuts to benefits that seniors have earned through a lifetime of hard work. Social Security is also a vital safety net for people with disabilities and family members of workers who have died.

Kuster is deeply committed to protecting and strengthening Medicare and Social Security for Granite State seniors who have worked hard their entire lives and paid into these safety net programs. During her first months in office, Kuster sent a letter to President Obama urging him to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as he works with Congress to address our nation’s fiscal challenges.

Kuster is a cosponsor of a House resolution opposing the use of Chained CPI for calculating the cost of living adjustment for Social Security benefits. She has also highlighted the harmful impacts that mindless, across-the-board budget cuts – known as sequestration – are having on programs like Meals on Wheels that serve hungry New Hampshire seniors. Earlier this year, Kuster held a telephone town hall with thousands of Granite State seniors to discuss her commitment to protecting the programs they count on.

As of December 2012, the average monthly benefit for those receiving Social Security was $1,215. Over the course of a year, this averages out to $14,580. The idea that we should balance the budget on the backs of seniors relying on less than $15,000 is simply wrong.

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The full text of the letter is below:

November 20, 2013 

Dear Senator Murray and Representative Ryan,

As you work with your colleagues on the conference committee for the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, we urge you to support policies that prioritize America’s seniors and the benefits that they have earned over a lifetime of hard work. While we understand that you and your fellow conferees will have to make difficult decisions to find common ground, we believe that any compromise the conference produces must protect Medicare and Social Security for current and future generations.

In the aftermath of the disgraceful and avoidable government shutdown you have an opportunity to develop a bipartisan budget that reduces our debt and deficit in a responsible manner. To make good on this opportunity, the conference must reject policy reforms that place Medicare and Social Security benefits on the chopping block. Too often, we hear of proposals to drastically slash benefits provided through these critical programs. These proposals are presented under the guise of fiscal responsibility, but would jeopardize the livelihood and health of the millions of seniors who depend on Social Security and Medicare.

What the conference committee does in the coming weeks will shape the outcome of the FY 2014 budget process. Now is the time to send a clear message to the American people: While arriving at a solution to a budget impasse does require difficult choices, it does not require Americans to surrender their hard-earned benefits.

Medicare and Social Security are central to the health and retirement security of our nation’s seniors. Millions of Americans who have paid into these systems are counting on these investments to be there for them. That is why we urge you and your fellow conferees to support a responsible conference agreement that protects these bedrock promises we have made to our seniors.

We thank you for your attention to this matter. We hope and expect that your deliberations will be successful.