President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposes a $250 payment to Social Security recipients. The relief would come at a time when Social Security beneficiaries will not be receiving a normal cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) because of a formula that forbids adjustments during times of negative inflation. “Without a COLA, far too many of America’s seniors will find it even more difficult to purchase basic necessities, heat their homes and pay for their medications,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “We urge Congress to similarly work to provide much-needed economic relief to older Americans who are struggling to make ends meet during these difficult times,” she continued. “The President’s budget proposal will provide Social Security beneficiaries with the equivalent of a 2% increase in benefits and will help greatly to bolster their financial security.”
As expected, the budget also calls for a Bipartisan Fiscal Commission that will address the growth of entitlement spending, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. A plan to freeze non-security discretionary spending for three years to address the budget deficit would not affect those programs. “We must watch this fiscal commission development carefully, so that the budget is not balanced on the backs of seniors,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. Other items in the budget are aimed at supporting seniors. These include $3.3 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); funds to reduce Social Security backlogs; and money to help families care for aging relatives at home. Retirement security initiatives include establishing automatic workplace IRAs, with employees being able to “opt-out” if they choose; doubling the credit for small employers starting a retirement plan; and providing a 50-percent match on the retirement savings of families that earn less than $85,000.
Recharging Health Care Reform
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and President Obama all took steps this past week towards a revival of the floundering health care reform initiative. Pelosi announced her plan to schedule a vote next week on a smaller bill, which would focus on a fifty-year-old exemption of health insurance companies from anti-trust laws. This vote is an integral part of her strategy to tackle items that would not normally be included in a more expansive bill. This smaller bill would bear similarities to a section of the House health care bill which proposed ending the exemption for health and medical malpractice insurers, while granting the government more power to regulate anti-trust laws. Pelosi’s decision came in the midst of a debate on the use of reconciliation, a procedural maneuver that would allow the Senate to amend and pass the health care bill with only 51 votes. According to Reid, a reconciliation bill would first have to be approved by the House, where revenue measures must originate. A vote in the Senate would then follow. President Obama called on Republicans to support the reform bill.