The following statement, signed by more than 40 national organizations (see below) was written and distributed by Roger Hickey (202 955-5665), Co-director, Campaign for America's Future, and Nancy Altman (301 229-2651) and Eric Kingson, (315 374-8338), Co-directors, Social Security Works.
This statement has been sent to
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
all members of the Senate and House,
and President Barack Obama (and key administration officials)
We write with strong opposition to the proposal of Senators Kent Conrad, Judd Gregg and others to create a deficit-reduction commission that would override the normal legislative process and replace it with expedited procedures prohibiting amendments and limiting debate. We write with an increasing sense of urgency, because plans to vote on the Conrad-Gregg proposal on January 20th or soon thereafter, as part of the debt ceiling bill. If the Conrad-Gregg proposal were to become law, it could dramatically change by stealth critical benefits and services so vital to America's families.
Those supporting this circumvention of the normal process have stated openly the desire to avoid political accountability. Americans-seniors, women, working families, people with disabilities, youth, young adults, children, people of color, veterans, communities of faith and others-expect their elected representatives to be responsible and accountable for shaping such significant, far-reaching legislation.
Any deficit reduction measures should be carried out in a responsible manner, providing a fairer tax system and strengthening-rather than slashing-Social Security and Medicare. We should be strengthening, not slashing, vital programs like Medicaid, Unemployment Compensation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), EITC, Supplemental Security Income, school meals, Early Head Start, Head Start, Child Care Development Fund, Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, National Family Caregivers Support Program, Individual Disability Education Act, vocational rehabilitation and other programs and services crucial to struggling lower income and middle-income people in every corner of our country.
And as unemployment continues to grow, we need a real debate about how to balance the need for economic recovery and productive public investment with the goal of long-term budget responsibility. The American people are likely to view any kind of expedited procedure, where most members are sidelined to a single take-it-or-leave-it vote, as a hidden process aimed at eviscerating vital programs and productive investment.
As you know, the current effort to reform the health-care sector seeks to achieve reductions in Medicare spending, without cutting benefits. But the proposed budget commission-which will be viewed as a way to actually cut Medicare benefits, while insulating lawmakers from political fallout-could confuse people and undermine the reform effort. And an American public that only recently rejected privatization of Social Security will undoubtedly be suspicious of a process that shuts them out of all decisions regarding the future of a retirement system that's served them well in the current financial crisis.
We urge you to act decisively to prevent the creation of such an extraordinary and undemocratic budget commission.
Groups that have already agreed to sign (as of January 12, 2010):
On behalf of our nearly 40 million members, AARP writes to express opposition to three budget amendments you will be considering on January 20, 2010. We urge you to vote against an amendment to be offered by Senators Conrad and Gregg to establish a fiscal taskforce, and to instead focus on addressing the challenges of the nation's long-term debt through regular order. We also urge you to vote against an amendment to be offered by Senator Reid to establish statutory paygo, and by Senator Sessions to establish multi-year caps on discretionary spending.Fiscal Taskforce
AARP agrees that the nation's long-term debt requires urgent action. We are committed to supporting balanced policies that address the nation's long term fiscal challenges while also honoring the contributions of our members and the needs of millions of other Americans who rely on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. However the current fiscal crisis is far broader than these lifeline programs. We oppose providing fast-track authority to a task force that will function with limited accountability outside of the regular order of Congress, and with an exclusive focus on debt reduction. We further oppose the establishment of such a task force in light of the targeted Medicare savings and proposed Medicare Payment Board (that would have further authority to reduce Medicare spending) in the pending Senate health care reform legislation.
AARP believes the issues that the fiscal task force is meant to address -- including the revenue gap, health care costs and the long-term solvency of Social Security -- are among the most fundamental challenges we face as a nation. As such, they are issues that Congress itself, through its regular order, should tackle. We recognize that these issues test regular order, as has been demonstrated by the long and difficult debate surrounding health care reform. Simply because these issues are difficult to address is not reason enough to abdicate the responsibility Congress has to act. However, an open debate is essential in a representative democracy to resolve issues that have as broad and deep an impact on its citizenry as changes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the tax system.
Moreover, a task force that is directed to identify proposals to restore the nation's long-term balance sheet cannot do so without regard to the impact its recommendations would have on individuals. Broad, deep cuts to the nation's health and economic security pillars - Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - could reduce long-term debt, but would do so by shifting significant burdens and risks to older Americans and millions of others who rely on these benefits. If a task force is formed to address long-term deficits, it should focus on systemic solutions that balance the twin goals of managing our national debt and ensuring the long-term health and economic security of Americans -- not simply on authorizing budget cuts to eliminate the fiscal gap. Furthermore, we urge that Social Security not be considered in the context of debt reduction; this program does not contribute to the annual deficit, and its long-term solvency can be resolved by relatively modest adjustments if they are made sooner rather than later.
In addition, any meaningful examination of the nation's long-term fiscal challenges should include a serious assessment of both traditional revenue sources and tax entitlements. The tax code contains a multitude of tax preferences that automatically convey benefits, similar to spending entitlements, and entail significant amounts of foregone revenue. However, unlike Social Security and Medicare, which distribute their earned benefits broadly, tax entitlements are highly skewed to the most affluent. Moreover, the federal tax base has eroded over the past several years. For these reasons, it is both reasonable and fair to expect that a fiscal task force prioritize an examination of revenue policies, and develop recommendations regarding revenues as a key premise of an overall strategy to address long-term deficits.
Statutory Paygo and Multi-Year Discretionary Caps
AARP is very troubled that Medicare is virtually singled out for arbitrary and automatic cuts should sequestration result from the establishment of statutory paygo. While we agree that some spending should be protected from sequestration, such as Social Security, very few mandatory programs are subject to automatic cuts under statutory paygo. Further, no automatic increase in revenues is required by sequestration, even though the possibility of such a result would undoubtedly prompt even stricter adherence to paygo. These limitations on sequestration leave Medicare especially vulnerable to arbitrary and automatic cuts that are unrelated to making the program more efficient or effective. This approach is especially unacceptable in light of the significant Medicare savings contained in the House and Senate health reform bills, and the proposed Medicare Payment Board in the Senate bill. Consequently, we oppose statutory paygo as a process that threatens to arbitrarily cut Medicare and the health security it promises for older Americans.
Finally, AARP is opposed to a multi-year cap on discretionary spending. Capping spending on less than a third of the federal budget will not result in any significant deficit reduction and would have a substantial negative impact on the federal government's ability to deliver the services our members expect. Congress routinely evaded the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act spending caps by ignoring them in session-ending budget deals, and averted cuts by simply adopting language each year wiping the paygo scorecard clean. Discretionary caps would pit programs that serve the elderly, the disabled and children against defense and homeland security programs. Moreover, given the ongoing military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, discretionary spending limits would ultimately require steep cuts to non-defense discretionary programs -- the vast majority of which have been funded well below current services levels for the past eight years.
AARP is committed to working on a bipartisan basis with Congress to develop and advance responsible policies to address the nation's long term fiscal challenges. However, given the significance of Social Security and Medicare to the well-being of nearly all Americans, AARP believes a full and open debate is essential to ensuring the development of balanced solutions. As such, we oppose any legislative proposals that bypass or short circuit the protections afforded by regular order, or that rely on imbalanced, automatic, and arbitrary spending cuts to reach debt reduction goals.
If you have any further questions, feel free to call me, or please have your staff contact David Sloane, Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Advocacy, 202-434-3754.
Addison Barry Rand- CEOBack to top
The Alliance for Retired Americans, on behalf of its nearly four million members throughout the nation, writes in opposition to the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act of 2009, S. 2853. We oppose attempts to attach it to debt ceiling or any other legislation. We cannot support the bill's fast-track means of implementing vast changes to programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid outside the regular legislative process.
Under the legislation, jurisdiction for major and long-term changes to programs including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would be turned over to a 18-member task force, made up of 16 members of Congress and 2 administration officials. Regardless of the expertise of task force members, their recommendations would be crafted behind closed doors and subject to a fast-track up or down vote by Congress. Forcing changes to these critical benefit programs by eliminating open debate or amendments is an undemocratic way to address the future of such programs.
Since their creation, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have worked well to keep millions of America's seniors healthy and out of poverty. Social Security has been the bedrock of income security for nearly all Americans, providing guaranteed benefits to retirees, those with disabilities, and the survivors of retired and deceased workers. Likewise, Medicare and Medicaid has helped our nation deliver the promise of well-being and improved quality of life for retirees.
Currently, congressional committees of jurisdiction consider changes and improvements to these vital programs with the opportunity for due consideration and debate. These committees, with their broad-based and detailed knowledge of the programs under their jurisdiction, are the proper forums for considering any changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We strongly caution against a process that would bypass the regular legislative process in favor of an expedited, fast-track process that leaves room for little accountability and almost no room for input from the American people.
The Alliance for Retired Americans is committed to enacting legislation that improves the quality of life for retirees and all Americans. If we can be of assistance, please contact Richard Fiesta or Sarah Byrne in the Department of Government and Political Affairs at the Alliance.
Barbara J. Easterling- President
Ruben Burks- Secretary-Treasurer
Edward F. Coyle- Executive Director
As a federal debt ceiling vote approaches, the Senate is again considering whether Congress needs to put in place a commission or special process to address the country's fiscal situation. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare would like to reaffirm the strong opposition of its millions of members and supporters to any commission or special process that would force changes to Social Security through the use of a Congressional fast-track procedure. We appreciate the concerns of legislators who are looking for a means of reducing the federal deficit and slowing the growth in the debt. However, we have significant concerns about any process - including the Conrad-Gregg Commission - that would disenfranchise American voters and subject Social Security beneficiaries to harmful cuts in benefits. Social Security is a critical lifeline for American seniors. They deserve to have changes to this program receive substantive consideration that focuses on the circumstances of old age not the need for reductions in the budget.
Social Security is Not Responsible for the Current Deficit or the Federal Debt.
As supporters of Social Security, we are surprised to see the federal deficit and the federal debt cited as the reason a commission needs to be established to make cuts in Social Security. The truth is that neither the $1.4 trillion deficit nor the nearly $12 trillion debt has anything to do with Social Security benefits. For nearly three decades, Social Security has taken in more revenue each year than it has paid out in benefits. These excess funds have been invested in special issue U.S. government securities. Thus, Social Security has effectively been loaning its excess funds to the federal government to spend on other programs. Rather than increasing the federal deficit, Social Security's annual surpluses have actually been covering up the true size of the deficit in the general fund. With respect to the debt, Social Security is a holder of U.S. government securities just like the United Kingdom or China. Neither the U.K. nor Social Security has caused the debt to rise to $12 trillion, rather a portion of the $12 trillion is a debt owed by the government to those holders of securities. In short, these lenders to the government are not responsible for the increase in the debt.
A Vote for a Commission Will be Viewed by Seniors as a Vote to Cut Social Security Benefits.
While the federal debt has increased, nothing about Social Security benefits has changed. Benefits are actually quite modest. For 2009, the average annual benefit for a retired worker was only about $13,800. For the average beneficiary, benefits replace only about 40 percent of prior earnings and that percentage is dropping as the already-scheduled increase in the retirement age phases in. Senior citizens will see a commission as an effort to reduce the deficit and the debt at their expense. We strongly object to the creation of a commission that will cut Social Security benefits and ask seniors to sacrifice to solve a debt problem they did not create.
A Lack of Public Engagement Will Leave the American People Out of the Discussion.
Under most commission proposals - including the Conrad-Gregg Commission - a very small group of legislators and administration officials would design legislation to address issues affecting Social Security, federal taxes and perhaps Medicare and Medicaid. The legislation would then be fast-tracked through Congress on a time-limited schedule with no opportunity for amendment. This runs counter to efforts of the new Administration to provide transparency to the American public about its activities. Enacting legislation that would push through changes of this importance to millions of Americans, especially seniors, without the opportunity for Members of an elected Congress to amend them, ultimately disenfranchises the public and undermines the legitimacy of the political process.
Social Security is Needed Now More Than Ever.
This is not the best time to be reducing Social Security benefits for either beneficiaries or the nation's economy. The recent economic meltdown has reinforced the importance of Social Security as the basic foundation for retirement for this generation and the next. The sharp decline in the value of savings and 401(k) accounts together with the collapse of housing values has significantly reduced the retirement security of millions of Americans. Social Security was created in times like these to be the rock in a chaotic financial world, and it has proved its usefulness once again. Cuts of almost any kind are not the right remedy in the current economy, but cuts in Social Security now or in the future will leave older Americans increasingly reliant on the uncertainties of the stock market.
The National Committee strongly urges you to oppose any measure authorizing a commission or special process that would create fast-tracked and non-amendable legislation affecting Social Security and the beneficiaries it serves.
Barbara B. Kennelly
President and CEO
Re: Proposed Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action
The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO) is a coalition of national not-for-profit organizations focused on the well-being of America's 87 million older adults. Today, we write to you and your colleagues regarding recent efforts to create a commission that would force changes to entitlement programs, among other things, through the use of a Congressional fast-track procedure. We firmly believe that Congress, through its regular legislative process, is best suited to consider and address any changes to these programs. While we have additional concerns regarding the use of such a commission on Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, community service and federal civilian and military retirement programs, this letter is directly focused on Social Security. The LCAO will be sending, under separate cover, a letter devoted to expressing its concerns with the impact a fast-tracked commission would have on Medicare and Medicaid.
Last month's Budget Committee hearing on Bipartisan Process Proposals for Long-Term Fiscal Stability considered the creation of a commission that would be tasked with addressing rising federal debt by "closing the gap between tax revenue coming in and the larger cost of paying for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits." This is a weighty responsibility, requiring careful review of these critical social programs on which so many depend. But there is no guarantee that the members of this commission would have the necessary expertise to conduct such an intensive review. Our concern is that their recommendations, nonetheless, would be forced through Congress, without amendment(s), under extremely short timelines and with no opportunity to debate individual issues or consult with constituents.
In addition to our objections about the proposed commission process, we are concerned that its mission would imply that Social Security has somehow contributed to the nation's economic woes. Social Security is not a part of the deficit problem nor is it part of an "entitlement crisis." Its cost is projected to consume only 6.2% of GDP by 2030 and to remain slightly below that level for 50 more years. In fact, the 2009 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees pointed out that Social Security ran a surplus of $180 billion last year and had accumulated a reserve of $2.4 trillion. The most recent projections of the Congressional Budget Office forecast that Social Security will continue to pay full benefits until 2043.
Moreover, Social Security, with its dependable, guaranteed benefits, is the very program that helped us most recently avoid a 1930s-style depression. Even as the banking and financial systems threatened to collapse, Social Security continued to provide a reliable economic lifeline to millions of children, disabled workers, retired workers, and spouses (including widowed and divorced spouses) dependent on those benefits. These benefits helped to offset lost earnings and stimulated the economy by maintaining purchasing power. According to a recent study by the National Academy of Social Insurance and the Benenson Strategy Group, nearly nine in ten (88%) Americans say Social Security is more important than ever as a result of today's economic crisis.
Social Security remains the bedrock of retirement security for over 33 million older Americans: On average, households with Social Security beneficiaries age 65 and older received about 64 percent of their income from the program in 2006 (Social Security Administration 2009b: Table 9.A1). Additionally, Social Security provides a lifeline to 4.1 million children, 7.7 million disabled workers, 2.4 million spouses or divorced spouses of retired workers and 4.4 million surviving spouses.
The importance and value of Social Security to so many Americans demands that proposals to change the program be given the due weight, consideration and debate from Congress that they deserve. With this in mind, the undersigned members of the LCAO oppose the creation of a fast-track entitlements commission.
Alliance for Retired Americans
American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging
American Society on Aging
Association of Jewish Aging Services of North America
B'Nai B'Rith International
Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc.
International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW
Military Officers Association of America
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association
National Alliance for Caregiving
National Asian Pacific Center on Aging
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, Inc.
National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
National Council on Aging
National Senior Citizens Law Center
NCCNHR: The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care
OWL, The Voice of Midlife and Older Women
Service Employees International Union
The Jewish Federations of North America
Volunteers of America
Wider Opportunities For Women
We, the undersigned, urge you to preserve and protect two of the most important and successful government programs in the history of the United States -- Social Security and Medicare. We ask that you resist the pressure by Wall Street and conservative members of Congress to form an undemocratic and unaccountable fast-track 'deficit commission' that would cut these programs that are so crucial to the well-being of the people of our country.
Social Security is not responsible for any part of the deficit. The 2009 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees stated that Social Security ran a surplus of $180 billion last year with a reserve of $2.4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office, in its August 2009 forecast, said that full benefits can continue to be paid until 2043. There is ample time to make the necessary adjustments through the usual legislative process. The best way to get the cost of Medicare under control is by reforming the health care system as you are currently trying to do, not by cutting benefits to the millions of people whose health is at stake.
There are many ways to cut the deficit -- once our economy has recovered. In the meantime, Social Security and Medicare provide a measure of economic stability during a time of financial crisis in our communities. As Frances Perkins said on the 25th anniversary of Social Security, 'We will go forward into the future, a stronger nation because of the fact that we have this basic rock of security under all of our people.' In 2010, we'll celebrate the 75th anniversary of Social Security. We urge you to stand firm against the proposal for a fast-track commission that would diminish these two programs that speak so deeply of America's values.
OWL- The Voice of Midlife and Older WomenBack to top
Re: The Fast-Track Budget Commission Proposal: A New Assault on Medicare and More
Fast on the heels of health care reform comes another battle in Congress that is at least as crucial.
Many of those who have tried to stop, stall or water down health reform are the same special interests and politicians now pushing a budget mechanism that would, once again, launch a major assault on social insurance. Most recent was President Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security. Before that, the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 included many provisions aiming to privatize and undermine Medicare. The broad language of this latest proposal makes clear that the potential targets this time include Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and social investment as well. This time the attack is framed as a strategy to rein in out-of-control spending and federal budget deficits. The framers use falsehoods about the fiscal health of Social Security and Medicare, and they pretend to be acting to safeguard the future of these programs. ,
Under Senate bill S.2853, with 35 sponsors, the plan is to set up a bipartisan commission to design and propose a new set of spending constraints. Congress would then have to consider the proposal on a fast track and vote it up or down, with no power to amend it. That would remove major budget and funding decisions from the normal congressional process and thus deprive the public of opportunity to impact many important decisions.
Instigated by persistent lobbying and generous funding from Wall Street billionaire Peter Peterson, , this latest assault is thoroughly and ingeniously orchestrated. The national debt will reach its authorized ceiling in February. Before February is out, Congress will either have to raise the limit on the debt or else see the government shut down. A Senate vote could come as soon as January 20. Peterson's friends in Congress will demand approval of their commission plan as a condition for voting to raise the debt ceiling. Congress and the President need to hear from their constituents before the January 20 vote that this 'entitlements reform' legislation must be derailed and that the public values strong Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security programs along with other programs to meet major social needs. ,
Under the initiative of the Campaign for America's Future and the Project to Defend and Improve Social Security, more than 40 organizations, mostly national, are asking Sen. Reid, Rep. Pelosi, and all the Members of Congress to block this 'cynical, dangerous, and anti-democratic Peterson plan.'
Universal Health Care Action Network
The fiscal task force that the Senate will be voting on shortly as an amendment to the debt ceiling legislation should make women very nervous – as if they didn’t have enough to worry about already.
Poll after poll shows women are more anxious about their economic security than men – with good cause. Women are more economically vulnerable than men at all stages of their lives. They have lower incomes, are more likely to live in poverty, and are the vast majority of single parents. Last month, unemployment among women who head families was 13 percent, compared to an overall unemployment rate of 10 percent. In 2008, 37 percent of single mother families were poor. With the rise in unemployment in 2009, that figure is expected to rise to 46 percent.
So social insurance and safety net programs -- the programs often lumped together as “entitlements” – are especially important to women. Social Security is virtually the only source of income, 90 percent or more, for nearly half of single women 65 and older. Women disproportionately rely on Medicare, and women and children are the vast majority of Food Stamp and Medicaid beneficiaries.
The “broken entitlement system” referred to by task force proponents are the programs that help an elderly woman maintain her dignity and independence, that enable a single mother to put food on the table and provide her children the health care they need. They are a vital lifeline for tens of millions of Americans, young and old, including once-secure middle-class Americans who never thought they’d exhaust their retirement savings trying to stay afloat, go bankrupt paying medical bills, or have to apply for Food Stamps. Without these programs, and additional measures enacted as part of the Recovery Act, even more Americans would be out of work and in poverty. But hardship remains widespread and the recovery is fragile.
This is no time to be putting Social Security and other entitlements on a fast track toward benefit cuts.
Some proponents of the fiscal task force say we have to do something about Social Security because it’s headed for insolvency. What they don’t say is that Social Security can pay 100 percent of promised benefits for the next 30 years, give or take a few. According to the Social Security Trustees, Social Security can pay full promised benefits until 2037 and 76 percent of benefits after that. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Social Security can pay 100 percent of promised benefits until 2043 – and 83 percent after that. In contrast, in 1983, when the Greenspan commission made recommendations to address Social Security’s finances, Social Security was within six months of being unable to pay full benefits.
Medicare does face more immediate fiscal challenges than Social Security. Rising health care costs are a challenge for families, employers, states – and the federal budget. But, at long last, Congress is considering comprehensive health insurance reforms that could start to control costs and reduce the deficit while expanding and improving health care coverage.
In the short term, what the nation needs are additional measures to promote a widely shared recovery. In the long term, the fiscal challenge is real. If Congress wants to get serious about fiscal responsibility, there are ways to do it without hurting women and children.
On Wall Street, happy days are here again. The Wall Street Journal reports that major banks and securities firms are on track to pay $145 billion to their top executives, traders, and money managers for 2009. That’s the largest amount – ever. This group not only is enjoying lavish compensation, thanks to a taxpayer-funded bailout, but lavish tax breaks financed with borrowed money.
Congress doesn’t need to wait for a task force. There are lots of good ideas out there that would help put the nation’s finances on a sounder footing. For example:
There might be a little less champagne flowing on Wall Street. But women and their families would have one less thing to worry about.
Joan Entmacher, NWLC