Commissions and Feinstein: The Next Threats to Medicare and Social Security

Upcoming issue of CARA (California Alliance for Retired Americans) Alert

Commissions and Feinstein: The Next Threats to Medicare and Social Security

By Michael Lyon

Four years after Bush tried to privatize Social Security and cut its benefits, there is new clamor to restructure Medicare and Social Security and to cut their future costs. This time it is led by Democrats, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein is in the thick of it.  These lawmakers want to slash the healthcare and income of seniors and people with disabilities to pay for the war in Afghanistan and for the insurance and drug company bailouts that pass for health reform. Forcing through these cuts involves huge concentration of government power, and overturns decades of budget principles to guarantee benefits for retired and poor people.

Feinstein and Texas Republican Cornyn are promoting their bill, S.276, calling for a “National Commission on Entitlement Solvency.” Almost half of Feinstein’s Commission would be Presidential appointees and the rest are leaders of House and Senate Committees on revenue and spending. Each grouping has equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, so neither party has to accept blame for the cuts. For a year, the Commission would hold town hall meetings on fiscal responsibility across the nation, and would then propose sweeping laws cutting Medicare and Social Security, which would be fast-tracked through Congress. The Commission would be permanent, and would submit new fast-tracked legislative packages to Congress every five years.

Congress has several more bills to reduce Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.  A House bill, HR 1557, with nearly 70 co-sponsors, proposes a “Securing America’s Future Economy Commission,” to restructure Medicare and Social Security as well as the tax system. There is a Senate equivalent, S. 1056. (PDF, p. 5, part of a lengthy discussion of Commissions) In the Senate, Budget Committee leaders Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg are demanding a “Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action” with powers to “improve the long-term fiscal balance of the Federal Government, including the fiscal balance of Social Security and Medicare.” Over a dozen Democrats, including Feinstein, threatened to bring government to a halt by refusing to raise the national debt limit unless their Task Force was formed.    Like Feinstein’s Commission, these groups would be bipartisan, would include House and Senate finance committee leaders, and would have their recommendations fast-tracked through Congress, in some cases with no amendments allowed.

These Commissions are set up to be powerful and independent for a reason.  For decades, Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid benefits have been guaranteed by having their funding increase automatically as the number of recipients increases. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have wanted to eliminate this protection for years, but they are pressing harder as millions of baby-boomers prepare to retire and deficits mount from oil wars, tax cuts, bank bailouts, and giveaways to health insurance and drug companies.

CARA fought against Feinstein’s earlier Commission bill, S 355, in early 2007, and it is now deadA new national coalition, including the Alliance for Retired Americans has formed to protect Medicare and Social Security, and we will have an important role in California.   We have worked all our lives. We deserve and demand healthcare and a living income!

Also see the video “William Greider on the Looting of Social Security” and Greider’s more extensive article in The NationLooting Social Security.”    (Thanks to Dandelion Salad.)

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