UPDATE: In the time since I wrote this post on Tuesday, Congress has reached what is being called a "tentative" deal to extend not just the payroll tax holiday but unemployment benefits and make the "doc fix" which prevents a cut in reimbursements to physicians who accept Medicare. A vote tentatively set for Friday. Here's one news story about it.
Two relatively big pieces of news out of Washington this week: President Barack Obama's budget and the Republican so-called “cave” on extension of the payroll tax cut. There are aspects of each that affect elders so let's take them one at a time.
PRESIDENT OBAMA'S BUDGET
On one hand, there is hardly any point in parsing Obama's budget since it will be mangled by the Republicans in Congress. So why not wait until some of the dust has settled? Well, because it gives us a bit of a sense of his positions on important issues although they may be politically motivated.
Overall, within this new budget, the president is on the side of elders in regard to Social Security and Medicare. There are no cuts to the two programs but it does call for means testing and increasing Medicare premiums for higher income recipients.
This is a dangerous game because there is always downward income creep due to inflation so that lower and lower income levels are subject to the higher premiums and it's awfully hard to change such regulations once they are in place.
There are some other good and bad points for the two big elder programs in the proposed budget and I'll go over those in coming days. But considering that Republicans want massive cuts to both programs, the president has held fairly firm and I appreciate this statement on page 195 of his budget:
”The president realizes that Social Security is indispensable to workers, retirees, survivors, and people with disabiilities and that it is one of the most important and most successful programs ever established in the United States.
“Although current forecasts maintain the solvency of Social Security paying full benefits until 2036, the president is committed to making sure that Social Security is solvent and viable for the American people now and in the future.
“He is strongly opposed to privatizing Social Security and looks forward to working on a bipartisan basis to preserve it for future generations.”
Good statement of philosophy for an important program but he really needs to get over that bipartisan stuff with this Congress and find alternative means of reaching his goals.
EXTENSION OF PAYROLL TAX CUT
You will recall that when the two percent payroll tax cut was up for renewal just before the holidays, a last-minute agreement to a two-month extension got the Congress out of Washington for their extended break into the new year. But the extension expires at the end of this month and, if not renewed, will result in an average of $40/week increase in paycheck deductions.
Personally, I am opposed to this tax cut. Workers are not penalized and get full credit toward their future Social Security benefit and the lost revenue to the Social Security trust fund is replaced from the federal government's general revenue fund.
But, as we have discussed here in the past, that is a breach in the previously airtight lock on the trust fund door giving Congress, which holds the budget purse strings, the possibility to withhold the replacement funds. Scary.
Since hardly anyone else seems to care about that except me, let's get on with this week's issue. It was expected that Republicans in Congress would hold extension of the tax holiday hostage to budget cuts elsewhere. But here's a shocker: as noted in The New York Times yesterday, on Monday
”After months of partisan confrontation that left the tax break hanging in the balance, Republicans suddenly offered to extend the two-percentage-point cut while continuing to haggle over added unemployment benefits and a measure to prevent a drop in fees paid to doctors by Medicare.”
I'm sure you noticed the second part of that sentence. Unemployment benefits are due to expire at the end of this month too and what is called the “doc fix,” extending the current fee schedule paid to physicians by Medicare. The first is crucial to the feeble but possibly burgeoning economic recovery and the second would help keep doctors in the Medicare system.
Therefore, what some reporters referred to as a “Republican cave” on Monday wasn't a cave at all which caused the president to keep up the pressure yesterday:
“'They need to do it now — without drama and without delay,' he said. 'No ideological sideshows to gum up the works. No self-inflicted wounds. Just pass this middle class tax cut. Pass the extension of unemployment insurance. Do it before it’s too late.'”
Oy, my head hurts from so much of the same old, same old in Washington.
So – let's lighten our load today. There were so many other things to talk about last week that Crabby Old Lady didn't get a chance to speak her mind on the contraceptive/Catholic church controversy. As it happens, however, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show returned from a week-long hiatus in excellent form on this topic.
Stick with it to the end. It gets funnier and funnier.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: I Miss My Lips