Seniors, like so many Americans, are struggling during this recession and are worried about the present and future. I am working every day on behalf of the seniors in western Wisconsin to rebuild our economy and protect the programs most important to them. We're making tough choices to turn this country around and put us on a path towards shared prosperity for generations to come.
* We put money back into the pockets of America's seniors with an automatic $250 payment to every adult Social Security recipient.
* The Recovery Act lowered daily expenses by making investments in programs that lower the costs for food, energy and housing -- giving every senior greater economic security.
o $100 million for critical senior nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels and meals served at senior centers.
o Provisions to help older homeowners tap the equity in their homes with reverse mortgages, pay medical bills and meet other daily expenses
o $5 billion to help hundreds of thousands of seniors weatherize their homes and reduce heating bills by an average of 32%.
Now we need to continue that recovery and translate that economic growth into jobs. So I am continuing to encourage small businesses to grow and hire new employees. The $120 million investment in the Senior Community Service Employment Program -- a program that provides part-time jobs in community service for seniors struggling to find employment, is a step in the right direction.
Protecting seniors and their income from financial frauds and schemes so they have money for the things they need is also critical.
* That's why I supported new and tougher regulations on the banking industry through the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act which bans unfair rate increases and forbids the abusive fees and penalties that credit card companies have inflicted on America's seniors.
Protecting Social Security
As a member of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the program, the protection of Social Security is a top priority of mine. I am committed to finding responsible solutions to address the long-term financing challenges facing Social Security. I know we can find a way to ensure Social Security remains strong for today's seniors while making sure future generations can rely on it too. As part of my commitment to protect its solvency, I strongly oppose privatizing Social Security because it would rob money from the system that is needed to pay benefits for today's seniors. We cannot leave the emergency retirement money of our nation to be subject to the ups and downs of the stock market.
In 2005, when some members of Congress tried to privatize the program, I fought hard to save Social Security from this effort to destroy it, putting our seniors' financial security at risk. When the stock market plunged and the housing bubble burst, there was one thing America's seniors could count on - Social Security. There are those in Congress today that are again threatening to privatize Social Security. We cannot allow that to happen. I have fought to keep Social Security strong for today's seniors and generations to come.
According to the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees, Social Security has enough money to pay 100% of benefits for decades to come through payroll taxes and the Trust Fund. During the decades before Social Security's finances reach a critical point, I believe the Social Security Trust Fund surplus should be reserved for Social Security payments alone. Protecting the Social Security surplus from being raided for other spending will protect the program and prevent us from having to increase the deficit to make sure seniors get the benefits they've earned.
A bipartisan fiscal responsibility commission was recently established to examine the national debt as well as entitlement spending, so that we reduce the deficit and improve our long-term fiscal health. Having investigated some of Senator Bill Proxmire's Golden Fleece awards pointing out wasteful government spending, I have long been committed to fiscal responsibility. We must begin dealing with our long-term fiscal challenge and pay down the debt to ensure that future generations are not stuck with our unpaid bills.
As part of health care reform, I have been committed to making sure that we fix what's broken in the health care system and strengthen what's working. For 44 years, Medicare has provided critical health care and financial stability for seniors and people with disabilities -- and it's working for seniors in western Wisconsin. Under health care reform, Medicare will be strengthened and improved.
Health Care Reform
* Immediately lowers prescription drug costs for the 8,800 seniors in western Wisconsin stuck in the "donut hole' and ultimately closes it altogether by 2020. The bill provides a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the donut hole in 2010. Drug manufacturers will provide 50% discounts on brand name drugs in the donut hole to reduce costs beginning in 2011. Provisions also make it easier for seniors to enroll in the prescription drug low-income subsidy program by reducing administrative barriers and red tape.
* Eliminates Medicare co-payments for preventive care so that seniors will pay nothing on recommended preventive services that will keep them healthier longer. It also limits cost-sharing requirements in Medicare Advantage plans to the amount charged for the same services in traditional Medicare coverage and improves payment accuracy to ensure that Medicare pays the right amount for health services.
* Fights waste, fraud and abuse in the system by strengthening existing enforcement and compliance tools and eliminating overpayments to providers. New penalties will be created for submitting false data on applications, false claims for payment, or for obstructing audits or investigations related to Medicare or Medicaid.
Health care reform provides strong protections to safeguard seniors and the Medicare program by:
* Banning Medicare prescription drug plans from making mid-year formulary changes, which prevents drug plans from using bait-and-switch tactics after seniors have committed to enrolling in a plan.
* Strengthening penalties for prescription drug plans that use false marketing to mislead seniors.
* Limiting the maximum Medicare Advantage cost-sharing levels to the amount charged for the same service in traditional Medicare coverage.
* Extending the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund, which strengthens the financial future of Medicare.
Medicare is an important program that is working for our seniors. I support health care reform because it strengthens and improves this vital program and protects it for years to come. Reform also ensures the sustainability of our health care system and provides stable, affordable, high quality health care to all Americans.