Seniors are big winners in House elections

Seniors are big winners in House elections
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Voters have put champions of Social Security and Medicare back in the majority of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in eight years. Candidates who promised to protect and expand seniors’ earned benefits scored victories in races across the country, many with the backing of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare PAC. In fact, Social Security and Medicare moved to the forefront of the midterm elections, thanks, in part, to Republican calls to cut both programs to pay for the Trump/GOP tax cuts for billionaires and big corporations. Democrats responded by promising to defend seniors’ retirement and health security.  

Congresswoman-elect Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) pledged to “fight any attempt to privatize Social Security or turn Medicare into a voucher program.” Congresswoman-elect Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) told supporters, “I will protect Social Security and Medicare so we can meet our obligations to seniors, now and into the future.” Rep. Bill KeatingWilliam (Bill) Richard KeatingOvernight Defense: National Guard chief negative in third coronavirus test | Pentagon IG probing Navy's coronavirus response | Democrats blast use of Russia deterrence funds on border wall Democrats blast 'blatant misuse' of Russia deterrence funding on border wall Lawmakers urge EU to sanction Putin associate for election interference MORE (D-Mass.) declared, “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are among the most important programs ever created by our government.” Other victorious candidates in both red and blue states hammered home the same message. As such, the House results are a ringing endorsement of boosting Social Security and Medicare — and a robust rejection of right-wing plans to cut and privatize both.


Tuesday’s outcome may reflect an encouraging shift in the senior vote. In three of the previous four midterm elections, the majority of seniors cast ballots for those seeking to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But exit polling from this week’s elections indicates that the senior vote was roughly split between the two major parties — a 13 percent swing from 2014.

Seniors also voted with their wallets this year. Retirees gave 52 percent of their campaign contributions to Democrats, compared with 48 percent to Republicans, according to data from the Center for Responsive politics. As The Hill reported, “It’s the first time since the Center began tracking donations in 1990 that retirees have backed Democrats over the GOP in a midterm election.”  

Seniors and their families have seen their earned benefits threatened time and again under Republican control of the House. The election results mean that Congress can cast aside the tired trope of ‘entitlement reform’ (code for cutting benefits) and support enhancing Social Security and Medicare for current and future retirees. The new majority will serve as a firewall against further attempts to slash Medicaid and repeal or sabotage the Affordable Care Act — and challenge President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE to fulfill his campaign promises to protect Social Security and Medicare.

Legislation to protect and expand seniors’ earned benefits can now receive serious consideration in the 116th Congress after languishing under Republican control. This includes Rep. John Larson John Barry LarsonConservatives urge Trump to take unilateral action to suspend payroll tax collection House Dems introduce bill to require masks on planes and in airports House seeks ways to honor John Lewis MORE’s Social Security 2100 Act, which would increase benefits and keep the system solvent for the rest of the century and several other bills supported by the National Committee to boost Social Security and Medicare.  

The new House majority also can serve as a check on the Trump administration’s attempts to undermine Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Despite having promised during the 2016 campaign “not to touch” these programs, Trump officials have taken decisive actions to the contrary. White House budget proposals have called for trillions of dollars in cuts to all three programs. As Talking Points Memo reports, “[Trump’s] top economics officials have joined [Senator Mitch] McConnell in urging trims. Behind the scenes, his agencies have aggressively sought to weaken and limit social insurance, in partnership with willing states.”

The election also means a change of leadership in crucial positions affecting oversight of seniors’ programs. When the new Congress convenes in January, Rep. Larson (D-Conn.) likely will assume the chairmanship of the House Social Security Subcommittee. Another champion of Social Security and Medicare, Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealConservatives urge Trump to take unilateral action to suspend payroll tax collection Treasury to conduct policy review of tax-exempt status for universities after Trump tweets Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility MORE (D-Mass.), is expected to wield the gavel in the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, while Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) probably will head the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees Medicaid and part of Medicare.  

Using their newly acquired oversight authority, House Democrats could hold the Trump administration accountable for how it manages Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — something the outgoing House leadership has failed to do. Congress can compel the Social Security Administration to improve lagging customer service (including 2-year wait times for disability hearings) and can earmark funds for those purposes. More vigorous oversight may also prevent further SSA field office closures (more than 120 since the year 2000) and the understaffing that causes elderly claimants to wait for hours for in-person service.

The new majority could also rein in Trump’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), which, under the leadership of Seema Verma, has tilted the playing field toward private Medicare Advantage plans over traditional Medicare. Meanwhile, the administration’s granting of waivers for states to impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries has already caused thousands of enrollees to lose coverage, with even worse losses expected as more states are granted waivers. The 116th Congress can serve as a check on an administration that seems to favor conservative ideology over patients’ well-being.

We and other seniors’ advocates look forward to working with the new House leadership and members to give retirees a much-needed raise in their earned benefits — and defend seniors from demands that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid be slashed to pay for tax windfalls for the wealthy and corporate America. The election has given us a tremendous opportunity to restore American values of fairness and compassion —including caring for the sick and elderly — to the people’s house. 

Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a membership organization that promotes the financial security, health and well being of current and future generations of maturing Americans. He also chairs the board of the National Committee’s Political Action Committee, a PAC that endorses candidates for federal office.