Three GOP Senators Derail ‘Skinny’ Repeal Maneuvers

Published in the Woonsocket Call on July 30, 2017

After seven years of vowing to repeal and replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare, Congressional GOP efforts went down in flames on Friday when Sens. John McCain, of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, voted nay in supporting the Senate Republican’s “skinny” repeal bill.

Sen. McCain, giving his no vote with a thumb down gesture, left Republican Senators gasping and Democratic Senators clapping. The 80-year old Arizona Senator, recently diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer, had flown back to vote. The Senator’s vote was considered the decisive vote to derail the GOP’s long-time efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Senate Republicans Begin Efforts to Repeal Obamacare

On July 25, GOP leadership began its efforts to begin debate on the Senate health care bill to repeal AHA. On that Tuesday afternoon, the Senate passed a “motion to proceed” vote by 51-50, the deciding vote being cast by Vice President Mike Pence. The votes outcome allowed the upper chamber to begin debate on the Senate Republican’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace proposal. Sens. Collins and Murkowski had opposed this motion, but McCain, returning to Washington, D.C. after being diagnosed with brain cancer, voted yes to proceed with the debate.

Senators began a 20- hour period of debate, considering various amendments to the House version of the health care bill. By a vote of 43 to 57, the Senate rejected one version that included Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) controversial amendment that would have allowed those with pre-existing conditions to be separated into plans with much higher premiums. The Senate also rejected, by a vote of 45 to 55, another version that would have repealed the ACA with no replacement but with a two-year delay, giving GOP senators more time to create their replacement.

Late Thursday evening, GOP Senate leadership finally unveil its expected “skinny” repeal bill, formally called the Health Care Freedom Act, that would repeal ACA’s individual and employer mandates, temporarily repeal the medical device tax, and give states more flexibility to allow insurance that doesn’t comply with Obamacare regulations.

CBO’s analysis of the “skinny” repeal bill, estimated that 15 million more people would be uninsured next year than under Obamacare, with 16 million more in 2026, and that premiums would increase 20 percent next year, compared to current law.

Earlier that day, Sen. McCain and Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, held a news conference threatening to oppose the “skinny” repeal bill if the House Speaker did not offer sound guarantees that the House would enter negotiations after the Senate passed it. They feared that the House would end up passing “the skinny bill” rather than a more comprehensive bill hammered out in conference committee.

Ryan’s carefully crafted statement to the concerned Senators that the House would be willing to go to a conference committee did not include a specific guarantee that the House would not vote on the Senate’s proposal. Both Graham and Johnson went on to vote for the legislation. But, after his surprising vote it seems that McCain still had his concerns.

Before the Senate vote, President Trump even tweeted his displeasure of Murkowski’s opposition, her no vote against debating Obamacare repeal, says the Alaska Dispatch News. The state’s daily newspaper reported that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called the state’s Senators, Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, to inform them that Murkowski’s vote would “put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy.”

After Zinke’s call, “Murkowski, who chairs the Senate and Natural Resources Committee, sent a message back to the Interior Secretary and Trump. Overseeing the agencies confirmation process, a committee hearing on nominations to the Interior and Energy departments, was “postponed indefinitely” with no reason given, stated the Alaska Dispatch News.

Finally, early Friday, by a vote of 49-51, Senate Republicans failed to repeal Obamacare with three Republican senators — McCain, Collins and Murkowski – joining 48 Democrats to vote against the “skinny” repeal bill. Sen. McCain’s reputation as a political maverick was evident when he voted against GOP Senate leadership. But, this vote will be considered his political legacy.

A Sigh of Relief

Reacting to the defeat of the Senate’s ‘skinny’ repeal bill, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond, in a statement, called the vote “a victory for Americans age 50-plus.”

“The ‘skinny’ bill the Senate defeated would have dramatically increased health care costs, caused millions to lose their health coverage, and destabilized the insurance market,” says LeaMond.” She also thanked Senators Collins, McCain, and Murkowski, Senate Democrats and Independents who “called, emailed, rallied and wrote to object to this seriously flawed bill.”

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security, in a statement stated, “Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain were under extreme pressure from the White House and their colleagues to vote with the party instead of voting for the American people. It’s important to applaud them for stopping this train wreck of a healthcare bill. We have to wonder, however, why other Senators were willing to put their constituents at risk by cutting off their healthcare coverage.”

“We urge the majority party to put raw politics aside and work with Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act in a way that benefits millions of American families in both blue states and red states. Let’s move forward, not back,” said Richtman.

A Bipartisan Approach

President Trump and Congress must finally listen to listen to their constituents to create policies to bring health care coverage to those in need. It is time to put politics aside and work in a bipartisan manner to hammer out a viable solution to provide affordable health care insurance to millions of Americans without coverage. McCain, Collins, and Murkowski, did just that when they resisted their party’s pressure to vote their own personal conscience not party line. They believed that the bill they voted against would do more harm than good.

Obamacare can be reworked to become more cost effective and to provide more health insurance to those in need of coverage. A recently released USA Today/Suffolk University poll at the end of June says that “just 12 percent of Americans support the Senate Republican health care plan. But, “a 53 percent majority say Congress should either leave the law known as Obamacare alone or work to fix its problems while keeping its framework intact.”

The majority of America says keep Obamacare, but make it better. Hopefully, lawmakers will listen.

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Social Security Gets Attention at Debate

GOP Candidates Share Their Plans for Shoring Up System’s Solvency

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 12, 2016

Last Thursday, the four surviving G0P contenders for president at the CNN Republican debate at the Bank United Center on the campus of the University of Miami, focused on meaty policy issues and not theatrics. Previous debates were heated and sparks flew between candidates. But many political wonks consider this one to be subdued, may be even a little boring. Like the other 11 debates, on March 10 Ohio Governor John Kasich, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Businessman Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, gave their two cents on scores of policy issues including, the right to bear arms, trade, jobs, illegal immigrants, education, national security, fighting ISIS, Iran’s nuclear deal and protecting Israel. But one political hot potato issue, Social Security, even got a little more air time during this debate.

With Florida having the highest percentage of retirees in the country, with nearly 3.1 million residents receiving a Social Security check, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, brought Social Security into the debate by asking the candidates how they would keep the nation’s retirement program afloat for future generations.

Bash called on Rubio to explain his position on rising the retirement age and reducing benefits for wealthy retirees. The Florida Senator said he would not cut Social Security checks, joking that “I’m against any changes to Social Security that are bad for my mother, a Social Security recipient.”

Younger Generations Take Brunt of GOP Fix for Social Security

Rubio warned that Social Security will ultimately go bankrupt taking the country down with it. So, here’s his fix. “So what it will require is people younger, like myself, people that are 30 years away from retirement, to accept that our Social Security is going to work differently than it did for my parents,” he noted.

The 44- year-old Florida Senator, called for increasing the retirement age of younger persons to age 68 ultimately to age 70, suggesting that Social Security checks should not “grow as fast as someone who made less money.”

“Medicare could very well become the option of using my Medicare benefit to buy a private plan that I like better. Medicare Advantage does that now,” said Rubio.
Explaining what he favors making changes to Social Security, Rubio noted that “in less than five years, only 17 percent of our budget will remain discretionary; 83 percent of the federal budget in less than five years will all be spent on Medicare, Medicaid, the interest on the debt.”

CNN moderator Bash called on Trump to explain why he did not want to raise the Social Security retirement age and his rationale for not wanting to cut benefits to wealthy retirees.

Trump responded by saying that his democratic opponents oppose cutting the retirement program, evening wanting to give recipients “even more.” The businessman, becoming more of a politician, clearly sees how the heated political issue, of making changes to Social Security, will bring votes to the Democrats. ”And that’s what we’re up against. And whether we like it or not, that is what we’re up against,” he says.

“I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security [either making benefit cuts or rising the eligibility age”. Trump believes the solution is “to make this country rich again; to bring back our jobs; to get rid of deficits; to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse, which is rampant in this country.” He notes that catching improper retirement payments will also increase the solvency of the program.

Time Can Allow a Fix for Social Security Program

In response to those warning about the impending bankruptcy of the Social Security program if changes are not made, Trump says he would have a “a long-time to go,” possibly over 20 years, to increase the solvency of the program. It seems that he does believes that time will be on his side to fix Social Security, if he becomes president.

“The numbers don’t add up,” charges Rubio, to Trump’s assertion that reducing fraud and waste and in Social Security, the nation’s foreign aid programs and better purchasing policies. He chides both the Democrats and GOP for taking too long to “deal with” the solvency of Social Security.

With the spotlight on Cruz, the Texas Senator explained his advocacy for allowing younger workers to put some of their Social Security taxes into a 401 (k) accounts even with the

As president, Cruz pledges that he will not make any changes to Social Security that will impact anyone at or near retirement. “Every benefit will be protected to the letter,” he says, “But for younger workers, we need to change the rate of growth of benefits so it matches inflation instead of exceeding inflation.”

Finally, CNN moderator Bash, reminded Kasich of his position of cutting retirement payments. The Ohio Governor told a New Hampshire voter: “Get over cuts to Social Security benefits,” he says.

Kasich brought up his 1999 plan to save Social Security by allowing young people to have private retirement accounts. During a light hearted moment, Kasich quipped this memorable quote: “Now there are more 18-year-olds who believe they have a better chance of seeing a UFO than a Social Security check and we have a lot of seniors who are very nervous.”

Kasich’s plan to save Social Security is quite simple. “If you’ve had wealth throughout your lifetime, when the time comes to be on Social Security, you’ll still get it. It will just simply be less. And for those people who depend on that Social Security, they’ll get their full benefit. That’s the way it will work. And we don’t have to monkey around with the retirement age. And how do I know that? I’ve done all this before,” he told millions watching the two hour debate.

The writing is on the wall. 2016 GOP candidates for president, except Trump, look to make changes to Social Security to ratchet up the program’s solvency. Those calling for change say they won’t increase program eligibility, cut benefits or privatize the program, to impact aging baby boomers nearing retirement or for current Social Security recipients.

While differing on their political strategies, Democratic presidential contenders — former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, — seek to strengthen and expand Social Security.

Generation’s X, Y and Z might will consider looking closely at Democratic and Republican presidential candidate positions on fixing Social Security. November’s winner might just tinker with your future retirement program or slash benefits, ultimately impacting how you will financially survive in your retirement years.