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Elders and Washington Politics (This Week)

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.


category_bug_politics.gif 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

Comments

Like you, I'm distressed about the short-sightedness of our current Democrats who have made part of Social Security dependent on the largesse of Congress by monkeying with the payroll tax. Elders probably have the political heft to fight off attacks on our security -- but do we have the energy? I resent even having to consider that.

You are not alone. We'll live to regret that "temporary" payroll tax cut. At a time when there's a need to strengthen social security, the cut seriously weakens it.

The lack of outcry from young women about the current threatening talk re contraception has me a bit worried. Perhaps they think it is too preposterous to come true. If they could remember what it was like before female contraception was obtainable, they would not be so nonchalant.

I agree that the payroll tax cut was poorly conceived, and may prove to have been a bad move. I've been doing taxes for various family members recently and it appears, from their W-2's, that it works out to be about $14 a week for someone making $35k to $40k a year. I don't consider that a significant enough difference in take-home income to justify tinkering with Social Security funding.

Two words says it all:

Jon Stewart

!!!

I have been suspicious about the "tax cut" since the first day I heard about it. First because they never mentioned that it was a cut to Social Security taxes and who doesn't love a payroll tax cut. Second because they promised to grandfather older people who would be most likely to raise issues about it in the hopes they could convince younger people who weren't thinking about being old and needy that it was a great idea and wouldn't hurt a bit. Lastly, they must have been smoking funny cigarettes when they came up with the $40 per week number. In 2010, the median household income (Household being defined as two or more people living the the same house. Wikipedia) was $31,111. Multiply that by 2% and divide it by 52 weeks and you get less than $12 a week. I would guess from talking to friends and family who are looking for work, that salaries have fallen some from that mark. It doesn't approach $40 until salary gets to $100,000. So, in my opinion, it is an attempt to run a shell game. They should all be ashamed.

Anyone who thinks Rick Santorum is the right choice for President has only to look at his poor wife standing up there on the stage with him.

She has a hollow,dreary look on her face that suggests to me that being married to Mr. Perfect and bearing seven children with him has not exactly been a day at the beach for her.

This barefoot and pregnant attitude of his is unfamiliar to the younger women in our society,so I suggest they brush up on the "Good old days" of unreliable birth control and coat hanger abortions BEFORE they vote for him for any public office.

I can't even discuss this "tax cut" because I get furious with the president & with the language used to disguise what this really is....raiding social security. The other thing that distresses me so is that younger people have no notion of what women have gone thru in the past. Occasionally this comes up at Sunday brunch with my extended family & it amazes me about how little they know about events of even the past 20 years. (That joint you mentioned yesterday sounds better all the time):)Dee

I share your concern for the payroll tax cut. I don't believe there's a politician alive who has the cajones to restore it - ever.

I agree that making changes to social security like adding a means test and increasing Medicare premiums for higher income recipients can be a slippery slope but perhaps we could fix this if the changes are implemented by inserting a clause in the legislation that would not alter these additions unless there is a 2/3rds majority that favor such a change in the Senate.

I feel pretty comfortable that such a vote would threaten one's re-election and thus a majority will never materialize.

But who knows what tricks these people in Congress can play?

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