Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Medicare Payroll Taxes/Premiums, CMS, Senator Ted Kennedy

Payroll Taxes

"By proposing to expand and extend this [payroll tax] 'holiday,' Democrats have bypassed more efficient ways to help the economy, and have once again endangered Social Security.  And by demanding tax breaks for millionaires while blocking them for the middle class, Republicans have once again demonstrated their willingness to blow up the economy for self-serving purposes."  "What's wrong with that [potential compromises]?  The first problem is with the framing.  The payroll (or FICA) contribution should be seen as a premium, not a tax, especially for employees.  Working people are paying into a social insurance program, with the expectation that they'll collect benefits (primarily Social Security, though the tax also helps fund Medicare) from it when they're needed."

First and foremost, we must remember that Medicare and Social Security are pre-paid public benefits.  For Medicare, we pay (or paid) a premium.

Support For Tavenner

"President Barack Obama’s Medicare nominee Tuesday got unexpected support from one of Congress’ Republican stars.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told The Associated Press that Marilyn Tavenner is 'eminently qualified' to run Medicare.  It may be too soon to contemplate a truce in the political wars over health care. With Tavenner, major players on both sides may be able to shift from confrontation to problem-solving."

Courage: Sen. Ted Kennedy

JULY 9, 2008:  Sen. Kennedy returns to Capitol Hill for Medicare vote -- "Senator Ted Kennedy has returned to Capitol Hill to vote on long-stalled Medicare legislation for the first time since he was diagnosed with brain cancer."

We all need to demonstrate such courage and strength of conviction in support of the aged and disabled.  And, we can do it -- even in the face of those who say "liberal" is a dirty word.

For Your Information


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Medicare Reimbursement Cuts, Romney and Medicare, Joint Committee Follow Up

 Physicians Face Cuts

"Politicians of both parties outdo each other vying for the approval of seniors, but their inability to compromise on the federal budget has put Medicare in the crosshairs again.  Unless Congress acts before Jan. 1, doctors face a 27 percent cut in their fees for treating Medicare patients.  That could undermine health care for millions of elderly and disabled beneficiaries."

"There's nothing to laugh about, says a senior Washington lobbyist closely involved with the secretive supercommittee deliberations.  The health care industry lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to make public statements, said lawmakers of both parties wanted to deal with the cuts to doctors, but a fundamental partisan divide over tax increases blocked progress of any kind."

Romney's Radical Medicare Plan

"Mitt Romney’s ambitious plan to rein in federal Medicare spending would give America’s seniors a choice: choose government insurance or use a federal voucher to buy medical insurance from private companies.  The idea, according to Romney, is to drive down costs by introducing market competition.  The proposal is similar in some respects to the plan Romney introduced as governor of Massachusetts and partially borrows from ideas pursued by Republicans in Congress and floated by a bipartisan group in Washington."

"But while Romney’s partial privatization route is applauded by some as a courageous solution to runaway costs, Democrats and some other critics say that it relies too heavily on unreliable market forces to lower costs.  They contend it lacks strong regulatory checks on runaway medical inflation."

Once again, Republicans -- and Mr. Romney in particular -- are trying to rely on "markets" and "competition" where neither exists.  Health care and health insurance cannot be delivered without regulatory control.  It has been shown repeatedly that market forces do not align well with the interests of people who need health care.  The difficulties are in the details, and of course Mr. Romney's plan is short on details, but not merely because details are difficult.  Considering that the large majority of Americans like Medicare as it is (recognizing that minor changes could be helpful), he of course must take the politically expedient route of not mentioning the damage he would cause to Medicare and to present and future beneficiaries.

Joint Committee Fallout

OPINION:  Why Does the Democratic Party Continue to Work Against the 99%?  "The continued irrationality of the GOP's steadfast rejection of any tax increases on the wealthiest among us continues to be the major sticking point.  Of course, if the GOP had its way, the Bush tax cuts would go on into perpetuity, which is what this dance has always been about, despite their wild-eyed squawking about the deficit.  Thankfully, the Dems -- for once -- refused to take the GOP's bait, and balked at cutting our safety nets of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid without tax increases, resulting in another standoff and the failure of the Committee."

For Your Information

Why We Occupy: Visualizing The 2012 Federal Discretionary Budget:  "One reason so many people have taken to the streets as part of the 99 Percent Movement is because of the country’s lopsided priorities.  The following graphic shows the makeup of federal discretionary spending in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget.  As you can see, the military eats up a lion’s share of the spending, while social priorities fall by the wayside.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Medicare Limits May Be Considered, Provider Preparations, CMS Follow Up

On the policy side, the "failure" of the Joint Committee -- let's face it, it's a failure of our politicians on both sides of the aisle, and not just with this Committee -- means that public awareness of funding issues related to pre-paid public benefits is higher than ever.  Indeed, policy makers already understand that some changes can be beneficial.  As a practical matter, preparation for the "mandatory" cuts now begins, and this scares providers, politicians, and consumers.  On the political side, it looks like there is no diminution from the inflexible Conservative Republicans of their anti-government stand.

A Shift In Basic Ground

"The supercommittee failed to strike a deficit deal, but the terrain still changed for entitlement reform.  And once Democrats -- starting with President Barack Obama -- gave ground on Medicare and other entitlements, it may be hard to take it back.  A year ago, Democrats dismissed as way too extreme ideas from the various deficit commissions about changing entitlements.  Democrats still vehemently oppose any move to radically restructure Medicare or Medicaid, as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and other top Republicans propose.  But a lot of other ideas that were once taboo for Democrats are now part of the mainstream."

From that perspective, the Conservative Republicans have won a major victory.  They shifted the conversation to acceptance of (perhaps) severe changes to Medicare and Social Security.  However, we need to remember that they basically bullied their way into this winning position.  Now more than ever before, politics is HARDball.

A Dangerous Idea to Damage Medicare

"Though it reached no agreement, the special Congressional committee on deficit reduction built a case for major structural changes in Medicare that would limit the government’s open-ended financial commitment to the program, lawmakers and health policy experts say.  Members of both parties told the panel that Medicare should offer a fixed amount of money to each beneficiary to buy coverage from competing private plans, whose costs and benefits would be tightly regulated by the government."

"The idea faces opposition from many Democrats, who say it would shift costs to beneficiaries and eliminate the guarantee of affordable health insurance for older Americans.  But some Democrats say that -- if carefully designed, with enough protections for beneficiaries --it might [emphasis added] work."

This DOES sound like rationing -- of the worst kind -- a fixed and irrational dollar amount regardless of medical need.  But it has far too many unknowns.  I for one am not willing to take such high risks which can cause irreparable harm to the aged and disabled and be impossible to correct when proven tragically wrong.  Our pre-paid public benefits can change, but our commitment to the common good cannot.

Providers Ready To Take Offensive

"Automatic Medicare cuts triggered by the congressional supercommittee’s failure would hit hospitals harder than any other health industry, according to an analysis from Avalere Health.  The report puts hard numbers to across-the-board cuts that stakeholders have mostly viewed in broad, general terms.  But Avalere chief executive Dan Mendelson cautioned that the figures also assume the automatic cuts will actually happen -- an assumption he’s not ready to make.  The supercommittee’s cuts, if it had agreed on a deal, likely would have started next year.  But sequestration isn’t scheduled to begin until 2013.  'It gives the providers a chance to fight another day,' Mendelson said."

And EVERYONE will be fighting for another day.  This political season from now until the Presidential election and then beyond promises to be a mess for those who would rather see good sense carry the day.

Follow Up

For Your Information


Friday, November 25, 2011

Medicare Changes Still Possible, Giving Thanks, Medicare Administrator Gone

Lessons To Be Learned

"It would be easy to conclude that the supercommittee’s failure means the big, expensive health care entitlement programs -- Medicare and Medicaid -- are untouchable.  It also would be wrong.  The real lesson of the supercommittee’s collapse is that the political elements have to line up just right to put the brakes on Medicare and Medicaid spending.  It can be done, budget and health care analysts say.  But for the supercommittee, just about everything went wrong from the start."

"The timing was off, coming too close to a presidential election.  The co-chairs weren’t powerful enough.  The work came too soon after a summer debt deal that Democrats hated.  Republicans couldn’t give the kind of concessions on taxes that Democrats needed.  And the alternative to a supercommittee deal on health care entitlements -- the 2 percent automatic cuts in health care payments and defense funding that will now take place in 2013 -- wasn’t harsh enough to force a deal on Medicare and Medicaid.  In fact, it might even have been the easier way out."

STRONGLY SUGGESTED READING:  A thoughtful article with many important points.  Davis Nather lists the many factors that had a strong impact on these negotiations.  We all need to pay attention to these, because the budget problems are not going away, and the conditions for agreement might become more favorable.  We need to be smarter about how we address these problems.  No doubt, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have unique financing problems that will require unique financing solutions.  Also unique, Americans love these pre-paid public benefits, perhaps the ONLY federal programs with such widespread and deep support.  That support needs to be acknowledged and understood . . . and accepted.

NCPSSM Giving Thanks

"For months, Hands Off-No Cuts activists have taken to the streets, met with their Members of Congress and placed literally thousands of phone calls and emails urging Congress to reject flawed fiscal policies that send the bill for those failures straight to the middle class.  It’s been an incredibly successful campaign."  And, "Since the supercommittee’s real agenda was to bypass Congress and cut social security, let’s give thanks for the 99%."

Change At the Top

GOP Filibuster Ends Tenure Of Health Care Cost Cutting Expert.  "President Obama hasn’t used his recess appointment power very often.  But he didn’t hesitate to install Donald Berwick as the administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services without Senate confirmation over a year ago, to lead the implementation of the new health care law.  Berwick’s has, without a doubt, been Obama’s most important recess appointment, and his most effective. But he will step down early next month -- a few weeks before his term expires -- because filibustering Republicans continue to deny him an up or down vote."

For Your Information

"Pepper spray, also known as OC spray (from 'Oleoresin Capsicum'), OC gas, and capsicum spray, is a lachrymatory agent (a chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain, and even temporary blindness) that is used in riot control, crowd control and personal self-defence, including defence against dogs and bears.  Its inflammatory effects cause the eyes to close, taking away vision."  "The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsaicin, which is a chemical derived from the fruit of plants in the Capsicum genus, including chilis."  "Pepper spray is banned for use in war [emphasis added] by Article I.5 of the Chemical Weapons Convention which bans the use of all riot control agents in warfare whether lethal or less-than-lethal."


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe
SOURCE:  Wikipedia


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Failure Speculation, What's Next for Medicare, Privatizing Veterans Health Care

Why The Super Committee Struck Out

From Kaiser Health News:  "Politico Pro’s Matt DoBias and KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey examine what led to the super committee’s failure to cut a deal and discuss what it means for hopes of a permanent 'doc fix.'"  "And basically it came down to this:  The same old bugaboo that has hindered other deficit-reduction efforts, and that is that Republicans said that Democrats really weren’t willing to move on entitlement programs, and Democrats in return said Republicans weren’t really willing to move on new tax revenues."  MUST LISTENING.

Next:  Mandatory Budget Cuts

Health Programs Facing Cutbacks After Super Committee’s Failure.  Also from Kaiser Health News.  "The failure of the congressional super committee could mean automatic budget cuts totaling billions of dollars for everything from Medicare to biomedical research, starting in 2013.  But some health care interests stand to fare better than others."  "Two major health entitlement programs, Medicare and Medicaid, have protections under the law that set up the super committee.  Automatic cuts would not affect Medicaid, the joint federal-state health program for the poor, and Medicare spending would be cut by 2 percent -- all from payments to hospitals and other care providers."  A very helpful review.

GOP Sour Grapes

"Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) faults the Democrats’ refusal to accept partial Medicare privatization for the super committee’s inability to come up with a bipartisan plan to lower spending in today’s Wall Street Journal.  He writes, 'Democrats on the committee made it clear that the new spending called for in the president’s health law was off the table' and [he] pretends that the spending in the Affordable Care Act added to the deficit (it actually reduces it)."

"Democrats, for their part, offered rather substantial concessions on Medicare spending.  As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argued, the Democrats’ $3 trillion deficit proposal to the super committee 'stands well to the right of plans by the co-chairs of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission and the Senate’s ‘Gang of Six,’ and even further to the right of the plan by the bipartisan Rivlin-Domenici commission.'"

Remember Ryan's Plan to Repeal Medicare

"If you’re having a hard time buying that one party was more reasonable than another in the Super Committee negotiations, read Republican co-chair Jeb Hensarling’s obituary for the panel in the Wall Street Journal."  "It explains why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued such a blistering statement after the Committee’s demise.  'Republicans relentlessly sought to end Medicare as we know it by privatizing the program and putting seniors and future generations at the mercy of insurance companies,' he said."

"Both the GOP budget, authored by Paul Ryan, and the Rivlin-Domenici plan are fundamental overhauls of the health system for the elderly.  Ryan’s plan phases out traditional Medicare altogether, and replaces it with subsidized private insurance.  Rivlin-Domenici partially privatizes the program, while leaving traditional Medicare in place as an option for seniors -- but it also creates incentives for people to switch into the new private system."

Romney-Vet-Care, Inc.

"So much for that idea.  Mitt Romney is rapidly walking back a proposal to partially privatize VA care after a wave of criticism from Democrats and veterans groups.  'I have no proposal of that nature,' Romney told the Nashua Telegraph on Monday.  'We had a group of veterans and said, ‘tell me about the quality of your care.’  Some were concerned about the quality of their health care.'"

Of course, Mr. Romney mis-characterizes his own comments.  Seems that he just can't speak plainly in the first place, so he frequently needs to mis-clarify his own remarks.  That's what gives him his well-earned reputation as a flip-flopper.  He fears saying the wrong thing, so he very carefully and vaguely makes a seemingly off-handed remark.

Norquist's Heavy Vote

"One of major 'sticking divides,' as Democratic co-chair Sen. Patty Murray (WA) noted, has been Republicans refusal to consider a widely supported tax increase on America’s wealthy.  This intransigence is largely motivated by the shadowy influence of lobbyist Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, who threatens to serve any Republican who breaks his anti-tax pledge with electoral defeat.  Today on CNN, super committee member Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) noted that Norquist’s handcuffs on his GOP colleagues essentially makes him the '13th member of this committee without being there.'"

Just like in the General Election, money buys votes in the Joint Committee.  It's clear that any moderation on the part of the Republicans, who are completely stymied by strict Conservatives, would not be tolerated.  Threats were made, and we would expect that they would be carried out.

For Your Information

The Republican Reality-Free Zone

Romney Ad Takes Misquoting Obama To A Whole New Level -- He's Mitt Romney and he "approves of this message."

The Fox News Reality-Free Zone


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Joint Committee Aftermath, What's Next

Joint Committee Statement

Yesterday, the Co-Chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, Representative Jeb Hensarling and Senator Patty Murray, released a very brief statement which began with this paragraph: "After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline."

Three short paragraphs follow, the last of which -- in its entirety -- thanks the Committee and other staff.  This 270-word statement (less than 200 words without the last paragraph) is all they could agree upon.  While our hopes were that Democrats and Republicans could come together like statesmen on behalf of America, it is abundantly clear that this small 12-member group could not.  Clearly, it will be impossible for the 100-member Senate and the 435-member House of Representatives to come to any agreement.

Hopefully, all of our cards, letters, petitions, and email messages drove the point home that the Republicans could not protect their wealthy friends at the expense of Medicare beneficiaries and Social Security recipients.

Again, as we have said before, maybe this is for the best; Medicare seems like it will be better off under the cuts required if the Joint Committee "failed."  It certainly sounds like the threat that hung over the Joint Committee is having its desired effect now that it has given up.  Cuts to pre-paid public benefits, cuts to the military, and more -- all will have a profound effect and now are beginning to scare people.

Democrats demonstrated that they were willing to make extreme political sacrifices -- sacrifices that so many of us disagreed so strongly with.  Republicans merely sang the same tired song with the same tired refrain, resolutely protecting their rich pals and never wavering.  Finally, the Republicans went back one last time, and finally the Democrats just said "no."

Thank You Democrats

Remember?  At the last minute, Republicans tried still again to pressure the Democrats into giving even more?  Finally, the Democrats refused.  "Inside-the-beltway pundits have already begun to decry the so-called 'failure' of the super committee to hammer out an agreement that would have almost certainly resulted in huge cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits for ordinary Americans."

"Those ordinary Americans should applaud the Democrats' refusal to buckle to Republican demands for Draconian cuts in these critical middle class programs.  In addition, Democrats insisted that Congress' top priority at this moment should be creating jobs, and that the only fair way to bring down future deficits is to end tax breaks for the wealthy and, once again, require that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share."  MUST READING.


Reaction from Max Richtman, President/CEO of National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare:  “The super committee’s so-called 'failure' to sign off on yet another bad deal for average Americans could be the first indication that Washington has begun to listen to the American people who’ve said they don’t want their benefits cut for deficit reduction.  They’ve finally realized that it is wrong to get our budget house in order by targeting the very people hurt most by this difficult economy."

The Republican Reality-Free Zone


Monday, November 21, 2011

Joint Committee Remains at Impasse, Medicare Cuts Under Serious Discussion, Advocates Working to Prevent Cuts

It looks as if the Medicare cuts that were under consideration by the Joint Committee now have faded as the Committee apparently has failed to reach an agreement for resolving the Nation's debt.  As we have said all along, this might not be such a bad thing for Medicare.  It may be that the words of so many advocates have helped to keep Medicare safe for now.

No Progress

"A full-scale blame game erupted into public view Sunday after nearly three months of secretive negotiations on the supercommittee that failed to resolve an impasse to cut at least $1.2 trillion in deficits over the next decade.  Fanning out across the Sunday talk shows just hours before the supercommittee’s deadline, Republicans insisted that Democrats wanted to institute a $1 trillion tax hike, while Democrats argued that the GOP wanted to gut popular entitlements and protect the rich. And both sides insisted they were willing to compromise when the other refused to move off their partisan positions."

From Senator Bernie Sanders:

"Sanders gave plainspoken arguments against cutting social security, Medicare and Medicaid to reduce the country's deficit.  'Here's the issue: The issue is that in fact, this country does have a serious deficit problem,' Sanders said.  'But the reality is that the deficit was caused by [1] two wars not paid for, [2] huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country, and [3] a recession as a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street.  And if those are the causes of the deficit and the national debt I will be damned if we're going to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, children, and the poor.  That's wrong.'"

From Our Friends at NCPSSM:

"The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has endorsed legislation introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) creating a more accurate cost of living adjustment (COLA) formula for America's seniors.  The CPI-E was developed in 1987 to reflect the different spending patterns of consumers age 62 and older.  This formula acknowledges health costs have been rising much faster than other expenses, and that those costs represent a much larger percentage of seniors' monthly spending than is the case with other demographic groups.  The CPI-E is a more accurate measure of the real-world expenses retirees face than the current COLA formula and far more accurate than the proposed Chained CPI which would cut projected benefits over time."

"As the Congressional supercommittee's deadline looms, one provision that some members of both parties hope will fly under the public's radar is a plan to cut the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for America's seniors, disabled, survivors and veterans.  While Washington 's fiscal hawks try to downplay the proposal's impact by calling it a "technical" tweak the truth is switching to a Chained-CPI will permanently cut COLAs for generations of middle class Americans, making it harder and harder for them to make ends meet."  "The National Committee believes it is critical that the COLA be calculated based on an accurate formula.  If accuracy is truly the goal, Congress should change the COLA formula to factor in the actual expenses most seniors face, including health care."

"New national polling, sponsored by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation and Social Security Works, reveals that Americans across party lines strongly oppose changing the COLA formula as a way to cut the deficit."  "'Washington can try to camouflage the Chained-CPI using whatever poll-tested language they think is safe -- but voters will see right through that and will recognize this as a Social Security benefit cut they'll face today and for generations to come,'" said Max Richtman, NCPSSM President & CEO.

"Some members of the Congressional Super Committee apparently believe retirees who own their house or have saved for their retirement shouldn't receive their full benefits in Medicare because they're considered 'wealthy'.  Yet when it comes to tax breaks and loopholes, Americans earning a quarter of a million dollars aren't considered 'wealthy' by the same fiscal hawks now gunning for benefit cuts. The double-standard is clear.  Means testing middle-class benefit programs not only shifts costs to seniors, it will actually impact far more than just 'wealthy' retirees as more and more middle income Americans will be hit with growing premiums."

From the Democrats

"A Constitutional amendment that would forbid Congress from running deficits failed in the House Friday, thanks to broad opposition by Democrats, who recognized it as a GOP messaging vehicle, and a tool they’d use to roll back safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security."

For Your Information


Friday, November 18, 2011

Deadline Approaching, Pressure Increasing, Medicare Still in Trouble

It's Time To Act

DO NOT DELAY:  Please contact your Senators and Congressman and tell them you want them to leave Medicare and Social Security alone -- that is, you want Medicare and Social Security protected for now and for future generations.  Today, our corporations and politicians take the short view -- immediate profits, immediate political advantage.  We, as Americans, need to take a longer view -- to see that we have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren, to pass on a better world and a better America.  That means Social Security and Medicare will be there for them.  The aged and disabled of today and tomorrow depend on us and what we do today.

Also contact the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and tell them how you feel.

Tell Congress: No Cuts to Medicare Benefits

ANOTHER WAY YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE:  "Democrats on the so-called Super Committee are caving to Republican demands and pushing a plan that would make drastic cuts to Medicare.  This is bad policy and bad politics.  Cuts like these are the worst possible way to reduce the deficit.  They protect the status quo for the richest 1 percent while the 99 percent are expected to sacrifice vital healthcare that they need to survive in tough economic times like these -- and they'll hamstring Democrats running for reelection in 2012."  Tell Congress: No cuts to Medicare or Medicaid.

We talked about this yesterday.  This is just one reason why you need to contact your elected officials in Congress.  Maybe the public pressure is getting to Rep. Pelosi.

Pelosi to GOP: Leave Medicare Alone

"With just six days left until the Super Committee deadline, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) acknowledged Thursday that the panel is unlikely to agree on the sort of broad deficit-cutting bargain she and other Democratic leaders have pushed for.  And she made a strong case that the GOP’s allergy to taxes is the reason her expectations have diminished."

Pelosi said, "As I said before we already have gone down this path a half a trillion dollars in savings to strengthen Medicare in the past.  And one of the reasons to address the entitlement issue is to strengthen them.  To prolong them.  But if your goal is to eliminate them -- if the goal of the Republicans is to say … that the Bush tax cuts must be extended … if the plan is to extend the Bush tax cuts and to repeal the Medicare guarantee for our seniors -- well that’s not balance, and that’s a place we can not go."

Finally, the Democrats are standing up the way they should have from the start.  We need to encourage them to continue.

GOP Still Against Pre-Paid Benefits

"Super committee Republicans proposed a deal last week that includes only $300 billion in revenue increases, all in the form of deduction eliminations, a paltry concession that was vastly outweighed by the massive tax cut for the rich the plan also included.  While the proposal was an attempt to make Republicans look like they were actually considering revenue increases as part of a deal, it was quickly dismissed by Democrats." 

"... with Democrats rebuking Hensarling’s comments as 'unhelpful,' and even some Republicans agreeing that the party may need to concede on taxes, Hensarling has walked back those comments, suggesting the GOP would consider new revenues in exchange for deeper concessions -- in the form of entitlement cuts -- from Democrats"

More About the Joint Committee

For Your Information


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Joint Committee - Medicare and the Middle Class Heavily Targeted by GOP, Advocates' and Lobbyists' Wish List, Free Market Medicare

Republicans Increase Demands

"Shortly after catching heat from Democrats, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) addressed reporters in the Cannon House Office Building to revise and extend controversial Tuesday comments, which threw the Super Committee’s prospects into doubt.  ...  And Republicans won’t budge, he insisted, unless Democrats take agree [sic] to far-reaching plan to change Medicare."  "Hensarling hinted that his hard line on new taxes might not be so hard … but only if Democrats are willing to fundamentally overhaul Medicare."

The Conservative Republicans are keeping up the pressure and pushing harder than ever.  Could this mean that they are about to break?  Or does it mean that they are never going to give up?  Given that so many Americans support Medicare, how is it that the Grand Old Party can put itself into such a position where virtually all of its power can slip away?  The wealthy who are pushing the party don't care too much, because they can always get someone else to do their bidding.  They have no loyalty to Republicans, only to themselves.  But the Republicans -- who already have conceded their power to the Tea Party -- have much to lose.

The Rich Get Richer

FROM NCPSSM:  "The Republican supercommittee Co-Chair couldn’t be clearer about his party’s priorities for deficit reduction -- the GOP will only agree to a deficit plan that includes massive cuts in middle-class benefits combined with even lower taxes for the wealthy.  With just days left before its deadline,  it is obvious that the only deal that will come from this supercommittee is one that slashes benefits to middle class Americans while cutting taxes for the rich.  In other words, a doubling down of the failed fiscal policies which got us here in the first place."

Once again, NSPSSM is right on target.  And, again, the Conservative Republicans are showing that they intend to destroy Social Security and Medicare -- our most valued pre-paid public benefits -- in spite of support in the polls for keeping Medicare and Social Security strong and viable.  Thank you NCPSSM.  If you're not a member of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and  Medicare, you should be.

Political Battle Continues

"It would be anything but tragic if the super committee process broke down over Republican intransigence.  In fact, it would be terrific!  But continued Democratic missteps could lead to a real tragedy.  Right now Harry Reid and the president are both insisting that those triggers be enacted to both defense and domestic cuts if the committee fails to propose a plan.  That puts them in the position of advocating Medicare cuts that Republicans can then claim to have opposed.  The GOP ran that play against them in 2010, and it worked."

MORE:  Republicans Could Bend On Taxes If Super Committee 'Goes Big.'  The Conservative Republicans on the Joint Committee keep trying new tricks to trap the Democrats.  The Dems have come close to stumbling a few times, but so far have kept mostly out of trouble.  This is a battle of political wits.

Interest Group Wish List: A Window Into The Challenge For The Super Committee

REQUIRED READING from Kaiser Health News:  "In the weeks since this panel was established, thousands of organizations have weighed in -- offering ideas and assistance about how to reach this target, and even warnings about the dire implications some steps could have.  To help give a sense of the enormity of the pressure faced by panel members, KHN has examined just one of many areas the committee must consider.  Here is a sampling of the advice and requests from health care interests."

Taking Medicare Closer to the "Free Market"

OPINION:  "As Congress faces mounting pressure to rein in Medicare spending, two sides seem to be squaring off.  The don’t-touch-a-thing-other-than-squeezing-provider-fees position seems to appeal to mainly Democrats, while eat-your-spinach reforms, including more cost sharing and higher premiums, seem to appeal mainly to Republicans.  Neither position is very appealing to voters, however, nor should they be.  Is there a third way?  Is there a way to get the job done and appeal to voters -- young and old -- at the same time?  We think there is.  To see how it might work, we first have to understand that what Medicare is currently trying to do is virtually impossible."

From the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) is a "nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization."  Their main goal is "to develop and promote private, free-market alternatives to government regulation and control."

The authors make Medicare sound very difficult and confusing.  However, it's no more difficult or confusing than any other health insurance program.  AND, it's administratively efficient, with no added costs due to profit.  While there certainly are improvements that could be made in Medicare, the arguments here are not persuasive.  Furthermore, as long as there is health insurance, there cannot be a "marketplace" for the health care industry.  Many of the authors' ideas are creative; some might even deserve further analysis or demonstration, but overall, I don't think this is on the right track.

For Your Information

Of Interest


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Joint Committee: GOP = No Negotiation, 60 Plus = No Reality

No New Taxes

"About a week ago, Republicans on the Super Committee offered Democrats a plan they themselves claimed would raise new tax revenues.  Setting aside specifics, Democrats treated it as a crack in the dam -- the first indication the GOP’s alliance with anti-tax activists was starting to crumble.  Democrats ultimately rejected it.  But so too did Grover Norquist, which suggests it really did violate his pledge (which most Republicans have taken) never to raise effective tax rates."

"Fast forward to Monday, Norquist told The Hill, 'I’ve talked to the House leadership and the Senate leadership.  They’re not going to be passing any tax increases ….  If Republicans raise taxes now, they don’t win the Senate, and if Republicans raise taxes now they might not keep the House.'"

Simply put, there is no room for any negotiation.  As has been clear from the start (way back before the Joint Committee), Conservative Republicans are not interested in any compromise.  Like spoiled children, they only want what they want.

Upton and Joint (Private) Committee

"A lot of people want a lot of things from U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.  Unions want the rich taxed more and jobs created.  Tea Party members want spending cuts and federal programs eliminated.  A group of local ministers want programs that help the poor continued."  "But nobody knows how Upton or the committee plans to eliminate the deficit because nearly all of the group’s work has been out of the public eye.  For the past 93 days, 12 Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate have met in private to discuss possible cuts and ways to raise additional revenue."

A local viewpoint on their Representative in the national arena.  Interesting reading, but don't look for any insight about Rep. Upton's position.  Instead, you'll learn more about what happens at the local level.

The 60+ Reality-Free Zone

Here's a special edition of the "Reality-Free Zone" -- one just for seniors: According to 60 Plus Association Chairman Jim Martin, leader of the largest conservative seniors advocacy group in the nation, "Since the moment ObamaCare was passed, there has been a black cloud looming over the lives of every senior in America.  The politicians -- including their friends at the AARP -- who made us swallow this poison pill not only cut $500 billion from the Medicare safety net that seniors have paid into for decades of their working lives, but the legislation itself guarantees cuts in service, lower quality, slower delivery, and rationing.   In every measurable way, this is just bad medicine, plain and simple."

Sorry, Jim.  In every measurable way, your statement is simply a pack of lies and misrepresentations.  But wait, there's more.  The 60 Plus Association has ties to Conservative Republicans and the pharmaceutical industry.  It probably has ties to health care providers and big oil, based on their questionable positions.

MORE:  The 60 Plus Association: A Corporate Assault in "Good-for-Seniors" Clothing -- "The 60 Plus Association, a pharmaceutical industry front group, claims it is a 'nonpartisan senior advocacy group,' but it really operates counter to elderly citizens' best interests.  60 Plus advocates positions on issues that benefit big corporations but that stand to harm seniors."


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Joint Committee Updates - Pessimism for Medicare, Social Security Under Attack

Committee Sleight of Hand

From NCPSSM:  "The Congressional Super Committee has just over a week to present its deficit reduction plan.  Incredibly, it appears any illusion of finding a proposal with 'shared sacrifices' or a 'balanced approach' is just that … an illusion.  So far, the only agreement that has support from members of both parties is that middle-class Americans will face benefit cuts immediately.  When it comes to tax loopholes for corporations and tax breaks for the wealthy it appears some on the super committee would rather pass that buck on to yet another committee(s) to worry about sometime next year.  Simply put … the middle-class sacrifices again.  The wealthy are let off the hook again."

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has become a premier advocate for the aged and disabled.  Kudos to them: congratulations and thank you.  They are mentioned more frequently, and their arguments in support of Medicare and Social Security are genuine and germane.

Democrats Hold Social Security, Drop Medicare

"Seniors groups said Thursday they are pleased the latest Democratic supercommittee offer does not contain cuts to Social Security.  The groups have been working with the AFL-CIO to target supercommittee Democrats in their home states for putting entitlement cuts on the table.  Earlier in the supercommittee talks, Democrats had proposed changing the way inflation is calculated.  This would increase tax revenue but also cut Social Security benefits.  On Monday night, the Democrats scaled back their $3 trillion package to a $2.3 trillion deficit package that does not contain the 'chained consumer price index' cuts to Social Security.  The seniors representatives are not pleased that cuts to Medicare benefits do remain on the table."

Democrats Misguided

BY THE NUMBERS:  "The centerpiece of the Democratic proposal was a series of cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.  What's the number one item people did not want to see cut?  Medicare and Medicaid.  The second most unpopular target was Social Security.  Between Medicare and Social Security, 56% of people polled felt that these entitlements were (in the poll's words) 'the worst possible thing to cut.'  By contrast, only 20% of people polled felt that way about defense spending."

"When asked whether they supported 'hundreds of millions of dollars in spending cuts to Medicare and Medicaid through increasing beneficiary costs' (the Democratic offer includes $100 billion of such costs for Medicare and an additional amount for Medicaid), 76% were opposed -- and 52% were 'opposed strongly.'"

Affluent Seniors Could Take A Hit On Medicare

From Kaiser Health News:  "In the scramble to come up with a deficit-reduction deal by Thanksgiving, members of Capitol Hill's super committee appear to have one group squarely in their cross hairs: high-income Medicare beneficiaries."  "But some seniors' advocates see attempts to pry more from upper-income seniors as risky today, and a threat to the middle class tomorrow.  'When you’re talking about seniors, the definition of wealthy seems to be a whole lot lower than when you’re talking about younger people,' said Maria Freese, director of government relations and policy at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.  'Just because they’re retired, it doesn’t mean their expenses are much lower.'"

Washington Post Gets It Wrong

"The Washington Post doesn't seem to want to take any prisoners in its on-going assault on Social Security.  On October 31st, the paper ran a front page, above the fold, 'news' article ("The debt fallout: How Social Security went 'cash negative' earlier than expected") falsely claiming that Social Security, which holds $2.6 trillion in U.S. Treasury notes, 'is sucking money out of the Treasury.'  Mystified, Richard Eskow asked, 'How can a 2,363-word piece be so densely packed with inaccuracies, falsehoods, and downright lies?'"

A Washington Post "editorial calls AARP 'thuggish' for running political ads which forcefully state that if politicians vote to cut Social Security, their members will vote against them.  But there is nothing thuggish about AARP standing against the elites in Washington on behalf of their members who, like the overwhelming majority of all Americans, oppose cutting Social Security because they understand that its benefits are modest, yet vitally important."

This is a MUST READ for anyone who is concerned about the aged and disabled who rely on Medicare and Social Security -- America's best pre-paid public benefits.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Citizen Support for Medicare is Solid, Joint Committee "Update," Romney: Vouchers for Veterans Health Care

Steady Support for Medicare

FLORIDA:  "Florida Republican voters have a clear feeling about cuts to Medicare and Social Security: Don’t do it, according to a new poll by the AARP.  By wide margins, the survey shows that Republicans of all kinds -- whether they’re Hispanic, moderates or in the tea party -- would rather fix the nation’s budget by withdrawing from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, eliminating foreign aid or eliminating so-called tax loopholes."

IOWA:  AARP poll: Some Iowa Republicans disagree with their candidates on entitlement programs.  "The more notable numbers from the survey are that 64.5 percent of Iowans polled oppose cutting Social Security benefits to aid the national deficit, and 67.3 percent oppose reducing Medicare."

The results are unwavering as is Americans' support for Medicare.  Yet, Conservative Republican leaders and elected officials do not listen.

Joint Committee: Huh?

"The Republican co-chair of the so-called 'super committee' trying to forge a major deficit reduction deal said Sunday that a two-step process is possible in which the bipartisan panel sets a figure for increased revenue from tax reform that congressional committees then set in legislation."

"Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling told CNN’s 'State of the Union' that he remains hopeful for a comprehensive deal, but he made clear that an alternative could leave it to Congress to figure out how to implement results agreed upon by the 12-member panel made up of equal numbers of House and Senate Democrats and Republicans."

Huh?  So, the Joint Committee might, in fact, do little more than set up some kind of broad framework (which was given to them) -- perhaps something less than the cuts that would be imposed without an agreement by them -- and then leave it to Congress to fix the problem -- the same Congress that couldn't solve this problem in the first place and probably can' solve any problems at all.  Sounds like "duck and run" or a fake solution.  Pitiful.  Clearly, the Conservative Republicans are still holding out for their 1 percent, still trying to avoid any tax accountability for the wealthy.  Fair tax reform under current circumstances is simply not possible and shouldn't even be suggested.  Better to do "simple" tax increases.

Romney-Vouch -- $$ Would Be "Attributed" to a Vet

"Talking with the veterans about the challenge of navigating the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy to get their health care benefits after they leave active duty, Romney suggested a way to improve the system would be to privatize it.  'Sometimes you wonder, would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition, somebody else that could come in and say, you know, each soldier gets X thousand dollars attributed to them and then they can choose whether they want to go on the government system or the private system and then it follows them, like what happens with schools in Florida where they have a voucher that follows them....' "

"The idea is similar to Romney’s plan for Medicare, which would allow recipients to choose a private plan instead of the classic government-run health care structure."

Give the Conservative Republicans their due: they never give up.  They think their rich private sector friends should have a chance to replace government services which are delivered without a profit with services which are . . . delivered with a profit.  Cost plus?  These large-scale, profit-making enterprises, particularly in the health and medical industry, make more money for the wealthy.  (See how well de-regulation of the airline industry has worked?  See how well privatization of the postal service has worked?)  The VA has a commitment to veterans; these companies will have a commitment to the bottom line.

Boehner's Hypocrisy

"House Democrats charged Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) this week with talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to congressional efforts to fight poverty.  The lawmakers contend Boehner's recent remarks in support of low-income safety-net programs are hypocritical in the face of the GOP's hopes to slash funding for the same initiatives.  'This Congress has continuously attacked poor people,' Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) told The Hill.  'Republicans believe you can cut programs that help poor people and there will be no political consequences.'"

For Your Information

The Republican Reality-Free Zone: Presidential Foreign Policy Debate Version