Cicilline Spearheading key comeback?

Rep. Wants to Reestablish House Select Committee on Aging

Published in Woonsocket Call on December 20, 2015

Four years after the Rep. Claude Pepper, (D-Florida) died in 1989, the former Chairman of the House Select Committee on Aging, would be turning in his grave with the elimination of his beloved Aging Panel three other House Select Committees in 1993.  Serving as its chair for six years, the nation’s most visible spokesperson for the elderly, put the spotlight on aging issues in his chamber.

In 1973, the House Select Committee on Aging was authorized by a House whopping vote of 323 to 84.  While in lacked the authority to introduce legislation (although its members often did so in their standing committees), the House Aging panel begin to conduct comprehensive studies on specific aging issues to identify issues, problems and trends.  It was not limited by narrow jurisdictional boundaries of the standing committees but looked broadly at the targeted aging issue.

Congressional belt-tightening to match President Clinton’s White House staff cuts and efforts to streamline its operations would seal the fate of the House Select Committee on Aging. House lawmakers supporting the elimination of the House Aging panel viewed its $1.5 million a waste because 12 standing committees had jurisdiction over aging issues. Those opposed to putting the House Select Committee on Aging on the chopping block to rein in Congressional spending charged that the standing committees staff did not have time broadly investigate issues of the nation’s seniors as this select committee did..

Even with the mobilization and lobbying efforts of a coalition of aging groups including AARP, National Council on Aging, National Council of Senior Citizens, and Older Woman’s League to save the House Select Committee on Aging, House leadership ultimately chose to “put the nails in the coffin.”  No vote was scheduled to continue its existence on March 31, 1993 when its authorization automatically expired.

But did the House Select Committee on Aging really have an impact on the development of aging policy crafted by Congress as its supporters contend?   In 1993, with the demise of this select committee staff, writer Rebecca H. Patterson reported on March 31, 1993 in the St. Petersberg Times (p.8A)that Staff Director Brian Lutz noted that during its 18 years, the House Aging panel “has been responsible for about 1,000 hearings and reports.” This writer believes that the House Select Committee on Aging’s advocacy role prodded Congress to act abolishing forced retirement, investigating nursing homes, monitoring breast screening for older woman, improving elderly housing and putting the spotlight on elder abuse and the issues nation’s caregivers face when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Bringing the Aging Panel Back from the Ashes

After the disbandment of the House Select Committee on Aging in 1993, a brief effort was undertaken by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) when she became House Speaker to bring back the Aging panel but this attempt was not successful.  Last month, Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), representing the State’s First Congressional District, urged newly elected GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan in November 6th  correspondence to bring back the Aging Panel to the House Chamber.  There were 63 cosigners out of 435 lawmakers, all of them democrats, says the Democratic Lawmaker, who noted that many who did not sign wanted “additional time to review the proposal with their staff.”

It was extremely obvious to Cicilline and his cosigners as to the House Aging panel’s importance to today’s Congress.  “The considerable challenges that face our nation’s seniors, including Social Security and Medicare solvency, the rising cost of prescription drugs, poverty, housing issues, and location term care and other important issues, deserve dedicated attention from lawmakers, said Cicilline in his correspondence to Ryan and House GOP leadership.

Furthermore, Cicilline stressed the select committees relevant today as America’s baby boomers face the struggles of growing old.  “The addition of this demographic to the senior population will require thoughtful policy development and a focused effort to meet the many challenges by the increasing senior population”. He added that “Strains on resources for America’s seniors not only impact the elderly, but also those who support them, including family and professionals who provide care to seniors.”

A Quick Legislative Process

Cicilline notes that the House can readily create a temporary ad hoc select committee by approving a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee – giving purpose, defining members and detailing other issues that need to be addressed. All standing and select committees of the House (except Appropriations) are authorized by a House resolution, and funding is then provided through appropriations, he adds.  “If the Speaker is supportive of the initiative, we would like draft and introduce a House Resolution establishing the committee, says Cicilline.

Robert Blancato, the longest serving staff member on the House Select Committee on aging, knows that the cost issue may be brought up to derail Cicilline’s efforts to reestablish the House Aging panel in 2016.  “There are certainly costs involved but an effective committee can be operated with a reasonable budget,” he says.  Now with Matz, Blancato and Associates, a strategic consulting and public relations firm, he is firmly behind Cicilline’s efforts.

“The aging population and its issues from chronic care to care giving have grown dramatically since the end of the House Select Committee on Aging in 1993.  No [Congressional] committees and defined Congressional champion has emerged since that time.  A new Aging panel would be very relevant for the future,” notes Blancato.

As an eye-witness to the legislative activities of the Aging panel for 17, Blancato’s keen political observations must be heard by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  The House Select Committee on Aging, with its bipartisan approach to crafting sound aging policy, is sorely needed now with a House divided and “compromise” being touted by some in the chamber as a “dirty word.” By bring this select committee back to life, House lawmakers can send a powerful symbolic message that they are ready to roll up their sleeves and tackle issues of concern to the nation’s seniors. Cicilline along with his letter’s cosigners calling for bringing by the Aging panel are definitely on the right track.

 

 

 

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The Best Of…Former Sen. Moss’ Advocacy Commitment Will Be Missed

           Published on February 3, 2003

            Last Wednesday evening, former U.S. Sen. Frank Moss of Utah died.

            After he received his law degree in 1937 from Washington, DC-based George Washington University, Moss briefly worked on the legal staff of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

           Throughout his legal career, he would sharpen his legal skills by working in a variety of settings.  Initially, clerking at the Utah Supreme Court, he would ultimately win an election putting him on the bench of the Salt Lake City Municipal Court in 1940.

         During the World War II, he would serve on the Judge Advocate General’s staff of the U.S. Armory Corps in England.  After the war, Moss would be elected in 1950, reelected in 1954, to serve as Salt Lake County attorney.

         Two years after his unsuccessful bid for Utah Governor, in 1956, Moss would run for Senate and win, by less than 40 percent of the vote.

         Obituaries in newspapers stated that the liberal three-term Senate Democrat was best known for his environmental work that included the establishment of national parks and recreational areas in Utah.  Moss was also recognized for drafting a series of bill protecting consumers, ranging from mandating labeling on cigarette packages about the health hazards of smoking, banning cigarette advertising on radio and television, to developing minimum safety requirements for automobiles.

           But for me and many of my colleagues in the field of aging, we will always remember Moss as being a true advocate for the nation’s elderly.

           Moss worked closely with President Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who would later become President, Hubert Humphrey and Claude Pepper getting Medicare and Medicaid enacted into law.

          Moreover, Moss will always be remembered for being the driving force behind the establishment of the Senate Special Committee on Aging in 1961.

          He also played a major role in establishing the House Committee on Aging with the late Rep. Claude Pepper.  The two special committees would later put the spotlight on aging policy issues, generating both the public and political will to bring about the needed policy changes.

          Throughout his Senate Career, in addition to authoring legislation that would require federal minimum standards for nursing homes and helping to create  the Medicare and Medicaid home health care benefits. Moss held the first hearing on hospice care and introduced legislation authorizing payment for hospice care.

           More than 40 years ago, the Special Committee on Aging, chaired by Moss, began to hold a series of hearing s on nursing homes.  It became extremely clear to his committee through its hearings, generating 1,300 pages of testimony, that both nursing home standards and enforcement by state regulatory agencies varied drastically.  Moss noted that these hearings helped to shape the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and that they also lead to series of reforms in 1967.

         Ultimately, a series of 30 hearings held between 1969 and 1976 eventually lead to the publication of a 12-volume report, entitled “Nursing Home Care in the United States: Failure in Public Policy.”

        In 1977, Moss, with coauthor Val Halmandaris (who at the time was responsible for research of the Subcommittee of Long-Term Care, but now serves as executive director of the National Association of Home Care) wrote “Too Old, Too Sick, Too Bad: Nursing Homes in America,” detailing the plight of America’s elderly.

       More than 10 years later, in a 1998 speech to the National Council on Aging, Moss expressed his concerns that American’s elderly were losing ground from all the gains they had achieved in the late 1960s and 1970s.  Congress has yet to enact a pharmaceutical drug program to put the brakes on spiraling drug costs.  Elder abuse is still running rampant throughout the nation.  Medicare expenditures are being slashed to nursing homes, home and hospice care.

        It is now time for Congress to get serious about tackling the multitude of problems thrust upon the nation by an aging society.  Moss’ advocacy comment to the nation’s elderly will be sorely missed, and his shoes will be hard to fill.

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