Washington Memo: We must not balance the budget on the backs of seniors
Last week, reasonable Republicans and Democrats in Congress came together to end the government shutdown and eliminate the threat of default. It was not a perfect solution, but I voted for it because it was a necessary compromise in the face of an unnecessary shutdown.
As part of the compromise, Congress agreed to try to focus on the budget. This means Republicans and Democrats will try to negotiate a plan to boost job creation; make key investments in infrastructure, education and housing; reduce the deficit; and protect programs vital to middle class security. This will be extremely tough since there are four budgets floating around: President Obama’s budget, the Senate budget (known as the Murray budget), House Republicans’ budget (known as the Ryan Budget), and the House Democrats’ budget (known as the Van Hollen budget).
Before these talks even begin, there is chatter about ways to balance the budget on the backs of seniors by making dramatic changes to Social Security and Medicare.
In past years, House Republicans passed Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which eliminates the Medicare guarantee and puts Social Security at risk. The Senate refused to go along.
I strongly oppose the Ryan budgets. America faces real problems. Too many people remain unemployed. Wages have been stagnant for too long. And our deficit, though falling, is still too high. But targeting seniors and other vulnerable populations is not the answer.
New Hampshire seniors have worked for, paid into and earned Medicare and Social Security benefits through a lifetime of hard work. We must keep our commitment to them, and to future generations.
Together with Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security embodies the moral fabric of our country. These programs are the foundation of economic security for seniors and for the most vulnerable. While I am open to proposals that make Social Security stronger and extend its solvency, I will not accept a budget that takes from Social Security beneficiaries without first asking America’s millionaires and multibillion-dollar corporations to pay their fair share. Keep in mind that in 2008, nearly two-thirds of U.S. companies and 68 percent of foreign corporations did not pay federal income taxes, and Wall Street profits have soared while workers’ incomes have been flat.
For six in 10 New Hampshire residents who are 65 and older, Social Security makes up 50 percent or more of their income. As of December 2012, the average monthly benefit for those receiving Social Security was $1,215. Over the course of a year, this averages out to $14,581. It is immoral to balance the budget on the backs of seniors with incomes under $15,000, when those in the top 1 percent have seen their incomes skyrocket over the past 10 years.
More than one-third of Granite Staters over 65 would be living in poverty if they did not receive Social Security. And it’s not just seniors who benefit. Over one-third of beneficiaries in New Hampshire are spouses and families of workers who become disabled or die prematurely, including over 20,000 children. These benefits should not be used as a budget bargaining chip.
We do need to find ways to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. I am proud to have cosponsored legislation to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security. The Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act would create long-range solvency while improving benefits, and it would ensure greater economic security for America’s seniors. There are also a number of efforts to keep Medicare strong and root out fraud, waste and inefficiencies.
I am ready to support a balanced plan to grow the economy and protect children, seniors, families and veterans. We know that Congress must work out a long-term budget to reduce the deficit, invest in job creation, upgrade our infrastructure and strengthen the middle class. But I will not ask seniors or the most vulnerable to carry the burden when we can take other measures. For example, we could end outrageous farm and oil subsidies, close corporate tax loopholes, and do tax reform so our system is fair.
There’s a saying that if you don’t sit at the table, you will be on the menu. There are always too many seats at the table for the most powerful and influential. There must be a seat there for the rest of our citizens.
(Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter represents New Hampshire’s 1st District.)