Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation on Whether and How to Fix Social Security & Medicare
The Social Security “trust fund” is expected to run out of money in 2033; the Medicare “trust fund” in 2024.
Last year, Rhode Island finally faced and addressed – okay, only partially addressed … actually, only partially AND with the inclusion of a trojan horse – the insolvency of its state public employee pension fund. (Insolvent municipal funds remain entirely unaddressed, as the Ocean State Current reminds us.)
This insolvency came about at the hands of decades of elected officials, who promised or reconfirmed unrealistic benefits and then failed to take the steps necessary to either make good on those promises or make the adjustments necessary to prevent the collapse of what was left of the pension fund.
Though aggregate Social Security benefits per retiree do not come close to the amounts of many Rhode Island public pensions (which, for decades, commenced after only twenty years of employment, were calculated upon a base of the highest three years of salary, sometimes bloated by OT and amplified by a COLA that, in some cases, compounded), both Social Security and Medicare are headed down the same fiscal path as some of Rhode Island’s biggest public pension funds.
Accordingly, when we ask, “what is Congress doing to address this problem?”, the answers supplied by Rhode Island’s delegation are of particular interest in view of the state’s painful attempt to fix a similar problem on an all but after-the-fact basis.
In August, Anchor Rising asked each member of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation the following questions:
> Does the Senator/Congressman believe that Medicare and Social Security are in good or acceptable fiscal shape long term?
> If not, what is the Senator’s/Congressman’s plan to fix them?
Below, in order of seniority, are the responses (or the lack thereof). Please note that Anchor Rising has made no evaluation as to the accuracy or adequacy of the proposals put forth.
Senator Jack Reed
Senator Reed declined to answer our questions.
[The contacts made with Senator Reed’s office are listed after the jump.] Congressman Jim Langevin
In response to Anchor Rising’s questions, spokesman Jonathon Dworkin forwarded a press release. Below are the sections that seemed to pertain specifically to the questions.
By phasing out the Social Security payroll tax cap that benefits wealthier individuals and building on the future health care savings passed in the Affordable Care Act, we can continue to ensure Social Security and Medicare work for everyone. …
Additionally, Social Security cannot and has not ever added to the deficit. Instead, the program currently has a $2.7 trillion surplus. Because the impending retirement of the baby boomer generation will strain the system, Langevin has advocated ending the payroll tax cap that allows wealthier individuals to avoid paying into the Social Security on income above a certain level. Legislation the Congressman has cosponsored that includes a change to this effect, the Preserving Our Promise to Seniors Act, would ensure the program’s solvency for the next 75 years.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Anchor Rising posed these questions to Senator Whitehouse’s Communications Director, Seth Larson. In response, Mr. Larson proffered the last two paragraphs of an August 15 press release.
In order to ensure the long-term solvency of Medicare, Whitehouse has pursued reforms in our health care delivery system that could significantly lower costs for both Medicare and private sector insurers. He is also working to crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse in the Medicare system and has cosponsored legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, an action which could save up to $24 billion annually according to a study by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
For Social Security, which is projected to remain solvent through 2033, Whitehouse has cosponsored the Keeping Our Social Security Promises Act, which would raise the cap on Social Security payroll taxes to include income over $250,000. By doing so, the bill would extend the life of the program by an additional 75 years.
Congressman David Cicilline
Congressman Cicilline declined to answer our questions.
[The contacts made with Congressman Cicilline’s office are listed after the jump.]
Record of Contacts – Senator Jack Reed
– 8/16/12: Call to Senator Reed’s Washington, DC, office. Identified myself and conveyed my question to the woman who answered the phone. She put me on hold, came back and said that the legislative aid that I needed to speak to was not at her desk. I left a detailed message on that aid’s voice mail.
– 8/17/12: Call to the Senator’s DC office. Advised that legislative aid is out today. Put through to press person who offered his e-mail address so that he could forward the questions to the legislative aid in question.
– 8/20/12: E-mailed questions to the press person for onward forward to the legislative aid.
– 8/21/12: Call to the Senator’s DC office. Advised that press person was not available. Left message on voice mail of press person asking when a response might be forthcoming and furnishing contact information.
– 8/23: Call to the Senator’s DC office. Advised that neither the press person nor the legislative aid was available. Requested to be put through to the legislative aid’s voice mail to leave a message. My call was put through to her extension and the legislative aid answered the phone (almost certainly, by accident). Legislative aid advised that it was, in fact, the press person who needed to answer my question. I told her that I had been advised that it was she, the legislative aid, who would answer these questions. She said, no, it’s the press person. I asked when we might receive these answers; she replied, “This is August”.
Record of Contacts, Congressman Cicilline
– 8/14/12: Call to the Congressman’s Pawtucket office. Left message with the polite man who answered the phone.
– 8/16/12: Call to the Congressman’s Pawtucket office. Spoke to the same man again stating that no one had called me back. He said that he would pass along another message.
– 8/17/12: Call to the Congressman’s Pawtucket office. Spoke to a polite woman advising her that this was our third call attempting to obtain answers to our questions. She said that she would pass along a message.