Debt ceiling negotiations has seniors worried about Medicare, Social Security
Louise Manger, 77 of Shelton, is in fairly good health now, but that might not have been the case were it not for Medicare. She said she's had several surgeries in recent months -- including having two heart valves replaced -- that were covered by Medicare. Like most seniors, she's dependent on the program to pay for her health care needs and would likely struggle were it to be cut.
So she's been paying attention to the ongoing debate about cutting the national deficit and raising the debt ceiling. The battle over raising the debt ceiling went into high gear this week, as lawmakers faced pressure to put some sort of plan into place by Tuesday. According to the United States Treasury Department, the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling must be raised by then, or the government will run out of cash to pay its bills. Throughout the debate, some seniors have expressed concern that a plan to handle the debt could affect programs they depend on, including Medicare and Social Security.
Right now, it's unclear whether Social Security or Medicare would face direct cuts under the debt plans on the table, though past versions of a Republican debt plan included cuts to Medicare. Perhaps the biggest concern for seniors is what could happen if a plan isn't approved by Tuesday said Elizabeth Kerr, communications director for Congressman Jim Himes, D-4. The inability of the government to pay bills could affect seniors in many ways, she said. For instance, Social Security checks for next month are supposed to come out Wednesday, and it's possible that won't happen if the deadline isn't met.
Even with all this confusion, senior advocates have been pushing hard to make sure programs for older adults are protected. Last week, leaders from the state AARP traveled to Washington to urge lawmakers to keep cuts to programs for seniors out of any deficit reduction plans. Also last week, Connecticut AARP volunteers delivered petitions with 20,000 signatures to the district offices of Connecticut members of Congress, calling on them not to cut Social Security and Medicare. According to the AARP, about 49 percent of beneficiaries rely on Social Security for half their annual income.
"Medicare and social security have taken seniors out of poverty," said Brenda Kelley, AARP Connecticut state director. "I don't think we want to go back to the days where we had an underclass of older people."
There are two different debt ceiling plans on the table. On Thursday, the U.S. House was supposed to vote on Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner's two-step plan to cut the deficit and increase the debt limit, but that vote was cancelled. After an initial debt limit increase of $900 billion and $917 billion in cuts, the Boehner plan would set up a bipartisan committee that would have to identify another $1.8 trillion in cuts by the end of the year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has a proposal that would raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion and cut $2.2 trillion in spending.
Kelley said that should a plan go into effect, it will probably be some sort of compromise and likely won't look exactly like either of the major proposals on the table right now. However, she hopes that any debt ceiling plan will keep the interests of seniors in mind. "These programs are just too important to cut," she said.
Patricia Gerckens, 73, of Derby, has been collecting signatures for the AARP's petitions, and said she takes the sheets with her everywhere she goes. Like Manger, she's on both Medicare and Social Security, and is worried about what would happen if either takes a hit as a result of the debt debate. "I see a lot of people who could be badly hurt by this," Gerckens said.
Many are doubtful that any agreement can be reached by Tuesday's deadline. Scott McLean, chairman of the Quinnipiac University department of political science, said the dialogue over the debt ceiling has devolved into a shouting match and it seems unlikely that there will be a satisfactory resolution. "Everything looks like it's going to go down in flames," he said. "Now everyone is trying to pass something and blame the other side if doesn't go through."