GOP Trial Balloon Called “Trojan Horse”

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 16, 2017

In previous years, the GOP leadership, now controlling both chambers of Congress, pushed legislative proposals to eliminate Social Security and Medicare by privatizing these programs. These attempts were clearly visible for all to see. But, we are in new political times with a GOP White House seeking the destruction of these programs, too, but as some say through the back door.

According to an Associated Press story, published on April 10, 2017, as the Trump Administration begins to learn from its failed attempt to repeal Obamacare, tax code reform is now on its agenda. One trial balloon, being floated by a GOP lobbyist with close ties to the Trump Administration, would eliminate the mandated payroll tax that all American workers pay to fund Social Security and Medicare.

“This approach would give a worker earning $60,000 a year an additional $3,720 in take-home pay, a possible win that lawmakers could highlight back in their districts even though it would involve changing the funding mechanism for Social Security, according to a lobbyist, who asked for anonymity to discuss the proposal without disrupting early negotiations,” says Writers Josh Boak and Stephen Ohlemacher in their Associated Press story.

Currently, about 163 million American workers pay Social Security taxes and 59 million retired and/or disabled persons collect monthly benefits. About one family in four receive income from Social Security. The nation’s social insurance and welfare program is a “pay-as-you-go-program.” Today’s workers support the program by paying their taxes into the program and the money flows back out to the program’s current beneficiaries.

GOP Stealth Attack on Social Security

Responding to the GOP trial balloon, in her blog post published last Tuesday on the Huffington Post, a politically liberal American online news web site, Contributor Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works called the GOP trial balloon “a Trojan horse”, noting that “It appears to be a gift, in the form of middle class tax relief, but would, if enacted, lead to the destruction of working Americans’ fundamental economic security.”

If President Trump proposes “the Trojan horse, it would be the newest shot in the ongoing Republican war against Social Security. That war has failed so far. The American people overwhelmingly support Social Security because they appreciate that it provides working families with basic economic security when wages are lost as the result of death, disability, or old age. And it does so extremely efficiently, securely, fairly, and universally,” says Altman in her April 11, 2017 blog post.

According to Altman’s blog posting, after Trump and GOP lawmaker have suffered legislative defeats in their “frontal attacks” against Social Security to eliminate the programs “it appears they are contemplating a “stealth attack instead.” She noted, “In the 1980s, Republicans, who had long tried but failed to cut government programs directly, discovered a new tactic. They realized that they could undermine government and eventually force cuts to spending by cutting taxes and, in their words, starve the beast. Now, Trump is making plans to use that same tactic against Social Security.”

“Not only would the Trump proposal starve Social Security of dedicated revenue, it would ultimately destroy it. Social Security is not a government handout. It is wage insurance that the American people earn, as part of their compensation, and, indeed, pay for with deductions from their pay,” observed Altman.

Altman warns that GOP lobbyist’s proposal to eliminate the payroll tax to fund Social Security is consistent with Trump’s previous actions. “No one should be fooled by Trump’s campaign promise not to cut Social Security. Before he became a candidate, he called it a Ponzi scheme and advocated privatizing it. He chose, as his vice president, Mike Pence, who complained that the Bush privatization proposal didn’t go far enough, fast enough. As President, he has chosen a staunch opponent of Social Security, Mick Muvaney, as his budget director, and another staunch opponent, Tom Price, as Secretary of Health and Human Services (one of Social Security’s trustees.), she said.

In an email urging recipients to sign a petition to protect Social Security’s funding [the payroll tax], Michael Phelan, Deputy Director of Social Security Works noted, “For decades, Republicans in Washington and Wall Street bankers have told us that Social Security is going broke―even though Social Security has a $2.8 trillion surplus and can pay out 100% of benefits for the next 17 years and over 75% of benefits owed after that.” He warns the “Republican’s tax plans might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By starving Social Security of funding, they could finally receive their wish―replacing Social Security’s guaranteed benefit with unstable Wall Street retirement plans.”

The “Great Wisdom” of a Payroll Contribution Tax

Max Richtman, President & CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, says, “It’s no surprise that the GOP lobbyist who suggested this dangerous idea and remained anonymous. After all, who would want to own up to an idea that would trigger the collapse of the most successful government program in U.S. history?”

Richtman adds, “Peddling this kind of scheme reminds me of President George W. Bush’s 2005 privatization proposal. Only in this case, the risk factor shifts from the uncertainty of Wall Street to benefit cuts that will almost certainly occur when Social Security is forced to compete for government funding with other discretionary programs. There was great wisdom in President Roosevelt’s plan for funding Social Security through a dedicated payroll tax. As President Roosevelt said, ‘We put those payroll contributions there to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions…No damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”

Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based the Brookings Institution, sees an uphill battle to formalize the tax policy to eliminate the payroll contribution to fund Social Security. “I don’t think Trump will be able to eliminate or reduce the Social Security tax because of its dire consequences for the program itself. The program is very popular with the general public and many recipients count it as their sole support. Republicans will get killed if they try to do this. It is not a viable option now or anytime in the near future.”

When Trump releases his tax code reform proposal, aging advocates must remember that the devil is in the details. Read the proposal thoroughly with a fine-tooth comb

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Susan Sweet Takes the Reins of AARP’s Community Educational Initiative

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 11, 2013 

            Accepting the challenge offered by organizers of Rhode Island AARP’s “You’ve Earned a Say”, veteran advocate and organizer, Susan L. Sweet, has come out of semi-retirement, stepping to the plate to coordinate a series of “community conversations”  to continue efforts of promoting dialogue throughout the OceanState on the future of Social Security and Medicare.

             After years of paying into Medicare and Social Security, AARP, a Washington, D.C.-based group representing 40 million Americans, believes that age 50 plus aging baby boomers and older persons deserve a voice in the Inside the Beltway debates that impacts their future retirement years.  “You’ve Earned a Say” is a AARP-led national conversation committed to providing people with critical information about the domestic policy proposals being debated in Congress — simply put without the political jargon and spin.

             Regional events to be held in Warwick, Pawtucket and elsewhere – free and open to all — will be scheduled throughout the summer into the fall as Congress and  President Barack Obama begin to weigh in on policy changes for these critical domestic programs.

             “Susan has a remarkable knack for encouraging people to become actively engaged in matters that deserve public attention and involvement,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “We are fortunate that she has agreed to take this on. She will bring great energy to AARP’s ‘You’ve Earned a Say’ outreach and engagement efforts. The fate of Social Security and Medicare is important to all Rhode Islanders and we hope many will take part in our forums. Working with our staff and other AARP volunteers, Susan will be a tremendous asset. She is a force of nature.”   After seeing her in action for over 18 years this columnist agrees.

             A veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement and the War on Poverty, Sweet joined the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) in 1972, where she founded and led numerous Rhode Island Division of Women’s programs.  She worked with the General Assembly to secure the first state funding for Domestic Violence Shelters.  While at the DCA, she also wrote a grant, funded by federal dollars, to establish community health centers throughout the state.

             In the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Sweet was Associate Director of the R. I. Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA), creating and developing a number of award winning programs, including the RI Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Elderly Program, popularly known as RIPAE.  She initiated a first in the nation statewide Elder Housing Security program and various legislative and programmatic initiatives to assist elders in the state.

             Sweet, a Rumford resident, earned the monikor as the mother of RIPAE by initiating, planning, organizing, managing and finally directing the state program that would ultimately assist 32,000 Rhode Island  limited income seniors with state co-payment assistance for prescription drugs. After leaving the DEA, three attempts were made by sitting governors (both Independent and Republican) to eliminate the program and the advocate led all three successful efforts to restore RIPAE funding in the state budget.

             After retiring as DEA’s Associate Director in 2000, Sweet has been a consultant and lobbyist on Smith Hill for nonprofit agencies and an advocate for vulnerable populations and issues such as immigrants, domestic violence, homeless and seniors. Her clients have included the Senior Centers Directors Association, the Alliance for Better Long Term Care, International Institute, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and others.

             On a personal note, Sweet, 72, cares for five adopted cats, all abandoned or abused, putters in her large backyard garden, spends time with two children and two grandchildren.  Being an expert on Roman history she reads many tomes on that era, and on world archeology and history.

Social Security on the Chopping Block

               Democratic President Obama and a Democrat-controlled Senate and a GOP House of Representatives are trying to reach a budget deal in the coming months. President Obama has proposed a change that would slash $127 billion from Social Security benefits over the next ten years, hurting many older beneficiaries who are already living on very tight budgets stretched far to thin by costly prescriptions, rising utilities, and increased health care costs. AARP and other aging groups are pushing hard against these cuts, mobilizing their troops to oppose. 

             Social Security is a self-financed program, not a piggy bank for deficit reduction, noting that aging baby boomers and seniors have paid into this pension program their entire working lives.  According to AARP polls, older Americans expect their elected representatives in Washington to fiscally secure Social Security for future generations and keep the promise Congress made 78 years ago: that this retirement program would provide a financial safety network in their later years.

             According to Sweet, the proposed chained CPI is a flawed policy that will hit Social Security beneficiaries in their pocketbook. Each year the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes the determination, based on market prices, whether to adjust the Social Security payment to beneficiaries and, if so, by how much.  The chained CPI is a formula that assumes that people will simply buy cheaper products.  “But that is not the case for seniors, whose greatest expenses are health care, utilities and other costs that can’t often be replaced,” So, the chained CPI is just a term that means that the average senior will lose more than $2,000 in the next 10 years and even more after that.  It also means that people reaching retirement age and/or planning for retirement will have even more of a reduction.

             Furthermore, Sweet finds it extremely disappointing that a Democrat President would offer, as an opening gambit in the budget process, a reduction in Social Security benefits by using a new and inappropriate method for computing Cost Of Living Adjustments (COLAs).  In fact, Social Security, a program that pays for itself and has never run a deficit, should not be used to offset deficits in other programs. We should be talking about how to strengthen the program, not reducing it, she states.

 State Pension Changes Hits Retirees, Too

             But, with Social Security COLA cuts looming if Congress takes legislative action to endorse chained CPIs, aging baby boomers in the OceanState who will shortly retire or those already receiving their municipal or state pension checks will see less retirement income because of actions of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

                 “Any additional loss of retirement income is certainly a concern for public employees who, as a result of the 2011 slashes in their promised retirement income,” said AARP’s Connell. “Lawmakers need to understand that there are earned benefits. People plan their retirement based on what they are told they can count on – whether it is a public or private pension, or Social Security. As we have said for the past two years, Congress and the President should not address the deficit by pursuing harmful cuts to Social Security and Medicare.” 

             Sweet agrees stating that “Rhode Island was at the very front of the attack on older folks with an extraordinary coup which stripped public service retirees and workers of hard earned compensation for their work. They called it “pension reform”, but that is not what it was.  Everyone knows that it is not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game and certainly not after the game is over.  But that is what is happening around the country, in private and public employment.”

             Social Security and other pensions are not “entitlement programs” but more like insurance programs that you pay into with the promise and expectation of a certain coverage, notes Sweet. The aging advocate asks: “Should the insurance company be allowed to change the benefits upon payout? Should government (state or federal) cut benefits to retirees absent the most pressing of circumstances?”

             But, certainly in the case of Social Security, there is no emergency, but rather a timely need to insure that the program can continue to fulfill its mission, she says.

             Robert A. Walsh, Jr., Executive Director of NEA, National Education Association Rhode Island, representing 12,000 members in education and in city and state government, refers to the recalculation of COLAs by using chained CPIs as “voodoo economics.”  While supporters of this recalculation policy note it reins in Social Security costs, they should at least be honest about the fact that it personally hits the retiree financially, right in their checks, he says.  “If you’re going to cut people’s COLAs, just be honest about it,” he says.

             Many of Walsh’s union members only receive their city or state pension as they are not eligible for Social Security benefits. People retired with certain expectations [as to what retirement income they had] and to make pension changes after they retire is patently unfair, says Walsh, noting they had no opportunity to plan for the decreased income.

             Throughout the nation there is a growing movement of aging baby boomers and seniors, fueled by AARP’s educational efforts, who tell Congress to simply  “Leave Social Security Alone”.  Strengthen it for future generations, they say.

             Sweet and millions of others tell Washington politicians that “Social Security is not a cookie jar to fund other programs.”   Sweet says you can make this known to Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation, Senators Reed and Whitehouse, Representatives Cicciline and Langevin, by attending the upcoming “community conversations.”  Support their position opposing the change in the COLA and urge them to support Social Security by leaving it out of any budget deal, she urges. 

             Herb Weiss LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com

Critics of Chained CPI Call It a “Flawed Policy”

 Published in the Pawtucket Times, July 5, 2013

            With President Barack Obama’s fiscal blueprint unveiled almost three months ago, on April 10, 2013, that included a chained consumer price index (CPI) for the purpose of calculating Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), Rhode Island aging advocates go on the offensive opposing the suggested way as to how the federal government would calculate inflation.

             In June 12, 2013, Rhode Island AARP State Director, Kathleen S. Connell, a former secretary of state and one-time teacher, and State President Alan Neville, of Cumberland, along with AARP staff and volunteers from every other state in the nation, traveled to Inside the Beltway to Capitol Hill, on June 12, 2013, to urge Congress to just say “No” to a tying a chained CPI to Social Security.

             Continuing to protest, early this week Connell, Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Langevin and Cicilline, joined over 150 people who voiced strong concerns over Congress’s consideration of a chained CPI.  The Rhode Island Alliance of Retired Americans, the organizer of Tuesday’s protest, called it a “flawed policy,” charged that “switching to a chained CPI would compound benefit reductions dramatically over time, resulting in an annual benefit cuts.” 

            AARP Rhode Island is also planning to host “You’ve Earned a Say” discussions at seniors centers across the state this summer and into the fall to get its membership to rally against changing how Social Security cost of living adjustments are calculated.

 

Critics Take Aim at Chained CPIs

             President Obama’s push in his proposed budget request to rein in Social Security costs (a concession to GOP leadership), through the use of the chained CPI, pushed liberal Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. David Cicilline, representing Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, to strongly oppose President Obama or any Congressional efforts to put Social Security on the chopping block to lower the nation’s federal deficit, through changing the way COLAs are calculated.

            Rather than tinkering with the CPI linked to Social Security to rein in the nation’s huge federal deficient, Rep. Cicilline called for reforming the nation’s tax code by ending subsidies for “Big Oil,” along with “making responsible target spending cuts,” to slash the nation’s huge federal deficit

 

            Referring to the Social Security’s 2012 Annual Report in April (see my June 1, 2012 Commentary in the Pawtucket Times) , Sen. Whitehouse stated that Social Security is fully solvent for the next 20 years and has not contributed to the nation’s budget deficit and has no place in the debate over federal spending. 

             Senator Whitehouse called it “a [Social Security] benefit cut disguised behind technical jargon.”  The Senator and other critics argue that the current CPI shortchanges older persons by placing too much emphasis on products that these individuals are less likely to buy, like “smart phones” and “computers.”  He noted that in 2010 and 2011, Social Security beneficiaries did not receive a COLA, even though prices for food and beverages, medical care, gasoline and fuel oil increased.

             According to the Washington, D.C.-based, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the Obama Administration sees this [chained CPI] switch as just “a technical adjustment.” Aging group warn that using the chained CPI will substantially reduce the Social Security benefits of current and future beneficiaries.  “If it is adopted, a typical 65 year-old would see an immediate decrease of about $130 per year in Social Security benefits.  At age 95, the same senior would face a 9.2 percent reduction—almost $1,400 per year,” notes NCPSSM.

             While all beneficiaries will feel the impact of this change, its effect will be greatest on those who draw benefits at earlier ages (e.g., military retirees, disabled veterans and workers) and those who live the longest, says NCPSSM, especially “women who have outlived their other sources of income, have depleted their assets, and rely on Social Security as their only lifeline to financial stability.”

 What’s the Impact???

             Washington-DC-based, AARP, representing 40 million members, has rolled out an educational campaign, to put the face who loses most if changes are made in how COLAs are calculated. 

 

              Fact Sheets, placed on AARP’s heavily traveled website (http://www.aarp.org/politics-society/advocacy/info-04-2012/youve-earned-a-say.html), tells how a federal policy shift would impact specific demographic groups in their pocketbook.

             Retired women can least afford using the chained CPI calculation because they earn less on average than men (that is $4,000), are more likely to have a part-time job and have gaps in their employment due to leaving the workforce to take care of their children.  With women living longer the chained CPI would slash their benefits more with every year they live.  Older women also rely on their Social Security Pension checks because they are less likely to have other sources of retirement income, this check even keeping 38 percent of them out of poverty compared to 32 percent of older men, the says the AARP fact sheets.

             AARP’s fact sheets, also details the impact on older disabled Americans, noting that 37 percent are dependent on Social Security benefits for nearly all their family income, that is around $13,560 annually.  Many begin getting Social Security checks at a young age.  For instance, a 35-year-old disabled worker who receives average disability benefits would see his or her benefits reduced each year by $886 at 65 and $1,301 at 80.   Finally, Social Security keeps about 40 percent of people with disabilities age 18 and over and their families out of poverty.  Cutbacks in benefits due to tying the chained CPI to the Social Security program would force the persons already living on a very tight budget impacted by rising drug costs, increased utilities and health care expenses to cut back on vital needs.

             Finally, one of AARP’s fact sheets charge that older veterans would be financially slammed, sort of a double whammy.  With almost 1.5 million veterans living below the poverty level, each dollar cut, like older person’s who are disabled, will get hit hard in their pocket book as the years roll by.  Because a chained CPI would cut both Social Security and Veterans’ benefits, this group gets the budget ax thrown at them twice. “A veteran who’s 65 today would have veterans benefits reduced annually by $1,029 and Social Security benefits by $1,422 at 95, when benefits are needed the most,” states the fact sheet.

 Congressional Fight Looming

             Rhode Island’s Senator’s Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have signed on as co-sponsors of SR 15, with over a dozen Senators, a Resolution Rejecting the chained CPI expressing “the sense of Congress that the chained CPI should not be used to calculate cost of living adjustments for Social Security and Veterans benefits.”

             Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, a resolution, HR 34, was introduced by Rep. Cicilline, cosponsored by Rep. James Langevin along with 111 other Democrats, also opposing President Obama and GOP attempts to rein in the Social Security budget through the use of a chained CPI calculation.

             With nonbinding resolutions expressing opposition to the use of a chained CPI index now introduced in both chambers of Congress, union and aging groups are urging rallying support for passage.

            AARP’s Kathleen S. Connell and her colleagues around the nation are gearing up to send a message loud and clear, once and for all to Congress.  Simply put, Connell says:  “Chained CPI is not only harmful and illogical; it is also out-of-place in the discussion of deficit reduction.  As a self-financed program providing earned benefits, Social Security has not caused the deficit—and it should not be turned into an ATM for politicians trying to address it.  We deserve a separate national conversation about how to protect Social Security for today’s seniors and responsibly strengthen it for our children and grandchildren.”

            Congress might well choose to tread lightly on giving the thumbs up to using a chained CPI in calculating Social Security Colas. The anticipated fiscal impact (detailed by AARP and aging group critics, along with the Rhode Island Congressional delegation) resulting from this federal policy change will hit the nation’s elderly right where it hurts, the most, in their wallets.  Increased bipartisan efforts can find better solutions to trimming the nation’s huge federal deficit and improving the fiscal viability of the nation’s Social Security Program.

             Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com

Defining Brendan Doherty: Romney Republican or Moderate

 Published September 28, 2012, Pawtucket Times

            With the upcoming November election just six weeks away, Republican Candidate Brendan Doherty held a news conference last Tuesday at Memorial, attempting to distance himself from House GOP leadership and from Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s anointed Presidential candidate.

Surrounded by a backdrop of the 294 bed CommunityHospital in Pawtucket’s East Riverview Neighborhood, Doherty, the GOP challenger to Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, came before seniors and supporters to do political damage control, with an agenda to set the public record straight about his positions on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Keeping Social Security, Medicare off the Chopping Block

Charging that Cicilline was misleading to voters on his positions on the nation’s most popular domestic programs, the Republican Candidate pledged his opposition to “privatization” of the nation’s Social Security Program, calling for Congress to keep the Social Security and Medicare programs off the budgetary chopping block.  The former state police superintendent, looking to become Rhode Island’s newest Congressman for the First Congressional District, also supported increased benefits for seniors already enrolled in the Social Security Program.

At the morning news conference, Doherty warned that he has no “secret plan” to cut Social Security and Medicare, as Cicilline charges.  He chastised the Freshman Congressman and his Democratic political operatives for using scare tactics and misleading political rhetoric to fuel a misinformation campaign to link him to Republican Presidential Candidate, Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan’s support for a Medicare voucher program.  Doherty stated that a voucher system would shift healthier Americans to private insurance plans and leave the sickest and frailest American’s in a weakened version of traditional Medicare.

Putting the Spot Light on Fraud and Waste

Doherty, calling himself an “independent thinker” a “centrist” who pledged to reach across the aisle to House Democrats, to pass legislation that would root out fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid.  He noted that a new RAND Corporation study showed that fraud and waste in these two programs may be as high as $98 billion.

“While Congressman Cicilline often speaks of his commitment to protect Medicare from any possibility of budget cuts, he failed to take this common sense action to address the fraud, waste and abuse that accounts for at least $48 billion being diverted every year from the Medicare program and taken away from our seniors who depend on the Medicare program,” commented Doherty.

Doherty, however, looks to push for the Medicare and Medicaid Fighting Fraud and Abuse to Save Taxpayers’ Dollars Act or the Medicare Fast Act (H.R. 3399), as types of legislative proposals he could support if he were elected to Congress.

Cicilline did not mince his words after Doherty’s news conference by continuing to tie his Republican challenger to the Radical Republicans who control the House.  He charged that “My Republican opponent supports raising the retirement age for Social Security and if he got to Congress, would vote to keep the Republicans in control of the House where they would continue to push an extreme agenda that would end the guarantee of Medicare and turn it into a voucher system.”

According to the Democratic Congressman, the Preserving Our Promise to Seniors Act, whish he is a cosponsor, is the best way to extend the life of Social Security Program along with improving the Cost of Living Adjustment formula to give beneficiaries an adjustment based on the cost of goods and services that they regularly purchased.  The Democratic Congressman also opposed the raising the Social Security eligibility age or any effort to privatize the system, these changes supported by many GOP lawmakers.

Responding to the news conference, the Rhode Island Democratic Party issued a release calling Doherty’s pledge to preserve Social Security and Medicare “an empty one,” given the Republican House Leaderships efforts to slash funding for these programs for years.

Countering Doherty’s attempt to label himself a moderate, Bill Fischer, spokesperson for the RI Democratic Party called Cicilline’s Republican opponent a “Romney Republican who has clearly stated he would repeal the Affordable Care Act; raise the eligibility age on Social Security; and will vote for Republican control in Congress.”

“If Doherty were serious about protecting seniors, he wouldn’t be calling for the repeal of our historic healthcare reform,” Fischer said. “Maybe he doesn’t understand the enormous benefits Rhode Island seniors have already received since its passage. Thanks to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, 128,390 people on Medicare in Rhode Island have access to preventative health care services, such as colonoscopies and mammograms.

In Rhode Island’s First Congressional District alone, 7,300 seniors have saved over $4 million on prescription drugs because the Affordable Care Act closed the donut hole.”

TV Spot Ties Doherty to Radical Republicans

             With Doherty’s effort to distance himself from the Washington Republican agenda, Cicilline’s campaign released a new television spot, entitled “Fantastic,” to more firmly politically tie his Republican challenger to the Romney-Ryan agenda in Washington.

“At the end of the day, Brendan Doherty wants Republicans in control of Congress and Mitt Romney setting the agenda in the White House. In fact, he thinks Romney would “be fantastic for Rhode Island,’” said Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers, detailing the spot..

“Rhode Islanders will have a clear choice this November between re-electing President Obama and Congressman Cicilline so we can get our state back on the right track, or voting for Mitt Romney, Brendan Doherty, and the Washington Republicans who got us into this mess to begin with.”

In the 30 second spot, Doherty emphasizes his support for Romney at a March 3, 2012 candidate forum, saying, “I think he’d be fantastic for Rhode Island.”

In January 2012, Doherty formally endorsed Romney for President, describing him as a “proven leader.”  In the same month, Doherty traveled to New Hampshire to campaign for Romney and was later introduced to the Republican presidential nominee by former Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri.

The political spot also outlines areas where Romney and Doherty agree on policy – including their support for repealing President Obama’s historic health care reform law, as well as their mutual opposition to reproductive freedoms for women and the Buffett Rule that would require millionaires to pay at least the same tax rate as the middle class.

As the Dust Settles…

Here are questions that voters in Congressional District 1 must ask themselves before they enter the polls in the November election:

Can Doherty successfully repackage himself as a moderate Republican?  If so, with a Republican-controlled House, captured by a radical Tea Party who philosophically opposes political compromise, as a moderate Republican will he vote for  Democratic initiatives that the majority of his Democratic constituents support.  Or can he stand the “heat in the kitchen” and vote against his House Republican leadership.

Can the voters forgive the former Providence Mayor, now their Congressman, for his statements made about the fiscal health of his City as he left office?  If so, they must determine if it is more important to keep this seat Democratic, in hopes of bringing the political party back to power in that Chamber.

With the November election looming, the Cicilline-Doherty political battle, truly becomes the classic “He said, She said,” debate, with the voters ultimately finding out the truth in the New Congress.

Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.

GOP Vice Presidential Candidate Shifts Debate on Medicare, Medicaid

August 17, 2012 

            With election day just a little over three month away the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, got temporarily knocked off message with his selection of Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisconsin) as his vice presidential running mate.   Before his pick, Romney went after the sitting Democratic President with charges that he failed to bring the nation out of the greatest economic crisis since the great Depression.  President had not brought employment to the millions of America’s unemployed.

            With Ryan on board the debate now has shifted to how his Budget plan (passed twice in the Republican controlled House) would reconfigure the 77 year old Social Security program along with Medicare and Medicaid.  Democrats expressed glee with Obama’s economic performance now being taken off the front page of nation’s

             Newspapers to focus on Medicare and Medicaid.  GOP strategists are working hard to figure out ways to bring a calm to swing states, like Florida, with a large number of voter baby boomers and senior, who vote.

            Democratic critics are zeroing in on Ryan’s Medicare plan, one that would eliminate the current system where every beneficiary would get the same set of benefits, paid by collected taxes, to one that would give each person a fixed amount of money.

             Ryan’s plan would allow those age 54 or younger who retire to be given the government payment to be used to either purchase insurance from the private sector from an approved list or from a government-run program similar to Medicare. People would pay more out-of-pocket if they wanted to purchase a more comprehensive health plan.  The federal government would regulate the participating private insurance industry, also providing more financial assistance to poor and sick.  The program’s eligibility age would increase from 65 to 67 by 2034.

             Finally, Ryan would put the nation’s Medicaid program, that provides health care to the poor and disabled, on the chopping block.  Under Ryan’s plan, funding would be cut by a third and the remaining federal funds would be funneled to the states as a block grant to be used at the state’s discretion.

 Attack Internet Video Highlights GOP Proposed Medicare Cuts

             The Obama campaign moved swiftly to capitalize on the uproar over Ryan’s controversial budget plan of fixing Medicare and Medicaid.  At the beginning of this week the campaign released a new Internet video accusing GOP’s Romney and Ryan of seeking to destroy the nation’s Medicare and Medicaid programs.

             This recently released campaign video, entitled “What do Floridians think about the Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it,” ties Romney firmly to his vice president’s prescription of reforming two of the nation’s domestic policy programs, a plan that has recently become a lightening rod, attracting political controversy.  

            To date over 76,479 viewers have watched the Obama campaign video on YouTube, attack the GOP Presidential contender and his running mate. Throughout the one :minute and 42 second video, five older Floridian residents expressed their concerns about the Romny/Ryan’s politically-charged proposal to make draconian cuts to Medicare.

           “It doesn’t make sense to cut Medicare,” says one older woman, who then says, “If we cut it now, what’s going to happen to our middle class?”  Another woman chimes in, “Medicare is a boom for senior citizens who without that would choose between food and going to a doctor.” 

             Not a bad internet video to put a negative spin on Romney and Ryan in Florida, a key swing state where the Republican candidate will shortly visit and the site for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, on August 27, 2012.   

             Republicans are attempting to soften negative attacks being lobbed at the Romney camp by attacking President Obama on his huge cuts to Medicare, amounting to $716 billion, that included in his enacted 2010 Affordable Care Act.  They allege that the President used the cut funds from Medicare to finance his health care reform package.  Democrats have pointed out the hypocrisy of this political charge by noting that Ryan had included $700 billion in Medicare cuts in his own budget plan, many of which can be found in Obamacare, the President’s landmark legislation reforming the nation’s health care system.  

 Romney Distances Himself from Partner’s Medicare Budget Fixes

             Two days ago, Mitt Romney, appearing on “CBS This Morning, Romney moved to separate himself from Ryan’s controversially-charged reforms to completely overhaul  Medicare and Medicaid by saying that “Congressman Ryan has joined my campaign, and his campaign is my campaign now, ” noting that “We’re exactly on the same page.”

             At the Wednesday CBS News interview, when Romney was asked about Ryan’s proposed Medicare cuts, he suggested that the Wisconsin Republican Congressman would support his plan which would not include huge Medicare cuts.  “The president’s cuts of $716 billion to Medicare, those cuts are going to be restored if I become president and Paul Ryan becomes vice president,” pledged the GOP Presidential Candidate, in his first solo interview on “CBS This Morning,” since he selected Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.

             “My commitment is, if I become president, I’m going to restore that $716 billion to the Medicare trust fund so that current seniors can know that trust fund is not being raided and we’re going to make sure – and get Medicare on track to be solvent long-term on a permanent basis,” added Romney.

 Domestic Programs Touching Everyone’s Life

                  “With fewer jobs offering pensions and people struggling to save for retirement, Social Security will be even more important for younger generations,” notes AARP President Rob Romasco, noting that more than one in three working households age 21 to 64 has no individual savings set aside for retirement.  His comment was released last with the polling findings from a 2012 Voter Survey.

             Among the findings, 59 percent of Americans polled fear that the negative effects of the economic downturn on their retirement savings will force them to rely more heavily on Social Security and Medicare — programs they are concerned that elected officials aren’t doing enough to protect. 

           The AARP survey of voters age 50 plus also found that six in ten plan to rely on Social Security and Medicare even more due to the recent economic downturn. The same survey found that the respondents’ top financial worry is prices rising faster than their income, and the overwhelming majority (91 percent) agree that the next President and Congress need to strengthen Social Security so that it is able to provide retirement security for future generations

         “Last year, while politicians in Washington discussed changes like reducing the COLA as part of a backroom budget deal, AARP fought to protect Social Security. One thing we’ve heard consistently from our members and all older Americans is that keeping up with inflation is one of Social Security’s most important features,” he continued.

            “It’s these voices – the voices of Americans who have paid into the program – that politicians should be listening to when they consider its future,” says AARP CEO A. Barry Rand, noting that his aging group has launched “You’ve Earned a Say,” an initiative (www.earnedasay.org) to ensure that voters have factual information about the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid policy debates inside the Washington Beltway, and platform to speak out about how any proposed changes would effect them personally.

            Romney’s selection of Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate has now put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the voter’s radar screen.  

             Now is the time for aging baby boomer and senior voters to send a blunt message to the sitting President, his opponents Romney and Ryan, especially those Congressional candidates that you will meet at public events in the OceanState, or even at your door step when they come to personally ask for your vote. That is, political gridlock is no longer acceptable to you and that the nation’s domestic policy issues must be solved through bipartisan efforts.”

             Meaningful legislative fixes, often derailed by “no-compromise” lawmakers should not longer be sent to Capitol Hill.      

             A Final Note…End the nastiness of this political campaign by educating yourself about the issues.  AARP’s “You’ve Earned a Say” will be in evidence McCoy Stadium Sunday (Aug. 19th) when the PawSox play Buffalo in a 1:05 p.m. game. Following the game, the aging group will have a booth as part of the PawSox Fan Appreciation Day. People attending the event can fill out a “You’ve Earned a Say” questionnaire that measures their opinions and concerns on the future of Medicare and Social Security.

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

On the Political Art of Compromise

          Published on August 3, 2012, Pawtucket Times

          The bipartisan spirit is briefly alive and well inside the Beltway.  With the Presidential and Congressional elections looming, just a little more than three months away, top Democratic and Republican Leadership this week forged an agreement to pass a “continuing resolution” to keep the federal government afloat for six months after the current budget year ends at the end of September. 

          Politically speaking, who wants to face the wrath of American voters fueled by the possibility of a government shut down before Election Day on November 6, 2012?  Not our lawmakers.

           After the upcoming November election, America’s political system may well become more polarized creating Congressional gridlock, if Tea Party candidates come to Washington, DC supporting the philosophy of  “no-compromise.”  If this occurs major policy decisions like reforming the nation’s retirement system and keeping Medicare afloat might happen only when the proverbial “Hell freezes over.”

Tea Party on the Rampage

         Tea Party backed candidate, Ted Cruz, won the Texas Republican Senate primary this week, potentially tilting the Senate toward the right if he wins in November. Over the years, we have seen moderate Republicans toppled by candidates aligned to the Tea Party who view working across the aisle as a weakness and compromise as a political sin.

        In one instance, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a six-term GOP Senator lost his Republican primary race two months ago against State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who was backed by a coalition of Tea Party-aligned groups.  In his concession speech, the 80 year old Lugar warned Mourdock  that his goal of riding “the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it” won’t be able to problem solve or govern.” The longest serving Senator in the State’s history also warned that “unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator.”  

       Last February, Senator Olympia Snow, of Maine, chose voluntary to walk away from the U.S. Senate after being a moderate voice in that chamber of 33 years, noting her decision was based on intense partisan bickering that now echoes throughout the Halls of Congress. 

       “Politics has been defined as the art of the possible.  That means compromise on both sides is needed to move the public business forward,” says Susan Sweet, a well-know lobbyist and consultant for nonprofit agencies and causes.  While the Democratic Party encompasses people of wide philosophies, the Republican party has become a party of “intransient idealogues,” observes Sweet. “Their sharp turn to the right has distanced and alienated moderate Republicans who previously formed a bridge for compromise and progress.  Moderates, like the late Senator Nelson Rockefeller of New York and the late Senator John Chafee were examples of the politicians who knew the art of politics, how to negotiate and when to compromise.

Reaching Across the Aisle

         But wait, Senator Orrin Hatch, concludes in an opinion piece, “Ted Kennedy: Later Senator Sought Bipartisan,” in the October 22, 2009, published in US News, you can support your political party’s philosophy and still be bipartisan, too.               

         The Republican Senator from Utah, who has served his state since 1977, considered Kennedy, who fought for the principles and philosophy of the Democratic Party, one of the nation’s greatest leaders for reaching across the aisle.

        Considered to be one of the most liberal Democrats in the last 50 years, who spearheaded almost every Democratic cause, Senator Hatch applauded his friends “ability and willingness to set party aside when there was some good to be done.”

         According to Senator Hatch in his opinion piece, the failing of American politics results from “politicians being too willing to toe the party line,”  not wanting to compromise their political agenda, “even when accepting the ideas and contributions of those outside their Party will advance their cause.”

            Sen. Hatch also viewed the late Democratic Senator’s lasting political legacy was “his unwillingness to let partisanship ruin a good opportunity to help those in need, and his ability to inspire others to follow his example.”

           Also, noted in Sen. Hatch’s USNews opinion piece, when in the minority, Senator Kennedy successfully enacted legislation because of his willingness to “move to the center or even the center-right when he recognized that Republicans shared his goals, even if they had different ideas on how to achieve those goals.”

           When the Democrats-controlled Congress, Senator Kennedy reached out to the minority GOP to get his legislation passed.  Senator Hatch noted that Massachusetts Senior Senator “had the political courage to defy interest groups and even his own party in order to reach bipartisan compromise,” to move legislation, specifically, the Children Health Insurance Program, the Ryan White AIDS Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

          Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, views Senator Kennedy’s most famous bipartisan legislation to be No Child Left Behind.  “He worked closely with President George W. Bush to pass this bill.  He reached across the political aisle and was able to bring Republicans and Democrats together to pass this education reform, said the former Rhode Islander, noting that this was one of many such bipartisan successes on the Senator’s part.  There are few people left in the Senate who have the interest in or credibility for this type of outreach.

Campaigns Gearing Up for Votes

            By now, political candidates are mailing campaign literature to aging baby boomers and seniors, hoping to effectively deliver their political messages and ultimately to influence their votes.

            As the nation pulls out of the economic doldrums, voters must educate themselves to the real issues and read in between the lines of campaign literature to learn more about the candidate’s background and issues.

           Marking the ballot in the voting booth becomes even more difficult in heated partisan campaigns where you must separate political bickering, rhetoric and negative innuendoes from the substance of issues.

           Keeping Social Security afloat, fixing a broken Medicare program, or bringing fairness to the nation’s tax codes, will not happen if Congress cannot compromise or negotiate on legislative proposals.   No longer can our elected officials view issues either black or white, but can be shades of gray.

Rising to the Political Occasion

         Even with his human frailties, Sen. Kennedy rose to the political occasion time after time and to confront legislative challenges by reaching out to both political friends and foes.  One might say he wrote the tome on the art of political compromise and negotiations, a guide for both his Democratic and Republican Congressional Colleagues to follow.

             The rise of the Tea Party and its political philosophy of  “no-compromise” and “torch and burn” to ensure ideological purity, will have an adverse impact on every generation, from today’s seniors, their aging baby boomer children, and finally, to their young grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

                  Where are the Republican Congressional moderates of today when the nation sorely need’s them to do the public’s business.

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  This commentary was published in the August 3, 2012 issue of the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.