The Lessons of History & the Challenge of Today
Generations of American seniors have enjoyed secure retirements, thanks to the wisdom of past leaders like FDR, who signed Social Security into law, or Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, who worked in good faith across party lines to save it. Seniors know they can count on their fellow citizens to honor the American promise to provide the foundation of financial stability and access to quality health care through Social Security and Medicare. They earned both. Today's seniors know of the poverty and insecurity older Americans faced in the days before Social Security and Medicare. So do I. And we'll never go back.
When FDR signed Social Security into law, we made a bedrock promise to provide American seniors the means to retire without fear of poverty. When LBJ signed Medicare into law, we extended that promise. For decades, older Americans have enjoyed universal, quality health care. These programs, while facing challenges, work. I am fully committed to defending them from radical restructuring and reckless revision.
While changing demographics and rising costs mean we must work to make Medicare sustainable for future generations, there is no immediate danger. Preserving Social Security presents only modest long-term challenges. I will work -- and have voted -- to put both on a path to long-term stability. If you are retired, or nearing retirement, you will get the benefits you earned.
But Congress must make sure that the children and grandchildren of today's seniors look to the future and know they can expect a secure retirement, too. I have consistently urged my colleagues in Congress to get to work now, make reasonable reforms today, to keep both Medicare and Social Security strong.
Keeping the Security in Social Security
Social Security is not in crisis. Since its inception in 1936, it has run a surplus nearly every year. Only recently have we seen annual shortfalls, but the Social Security Trust Fund can continue to pay benefits for decades, due to a cumulative surplus exceeding $2 trillion. Under even the most dire projections, the changes necessary to provide for every future recipient are not drastic. But we will need to negotiate modest, bipartisan changes for future recipients, not unlike what President Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill worked out nearly 30 years ago.
As we do, I will firmly oppose efforts to privatize Social Security. It is imperative that Social Security never be subject to the whims of the financial markets. When seniors watched individual retirement accounts drop precipitously a few years ago, Social Security remained as sound and dependable as ever. It is an essential part of our national safety net, and you don't wager the security of citizens on a roll of the dice.
Fighting the Destructive Republican Budget Plan
The Republican leadership in the House has released a plan, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, that purports to reduce the deficit. I don't think it will, because its assumptions are nothing short of fantasies and its cuts so destructive and draconian that the plan could send us back to recession. Experts may dispute its projected costs, but I oppose the Republican Plan based on facts that no one disputes.
The Republican plan shifts health care costs to seniors. By turning Medicare into a program that gives seniors vouchers instead of full coverage, it is a radical distortion of Medicare's purpose. It doesn't guarantee seniors access to care. If needed care costs too much, the patient would get the bill.
The Republican plan would cost seniors more and more every year. The Ryan Medicare voucher rises in value according to the rate of inflation. If health care costs rise faster than that -- as they have for many years -- seniors bear a greater burden to pay for care. That is unacceptable.
The Republican plan re-opens the prescription "doughnut hole," costing seniors more. And, it repeals the preventative screenings with no co-pay for seniors that I voted for. The Republican Plan would repeal the Affordable Care Act and its many associated benefits for seniors.
And the Republican plan cuts investments that benefit all Americans, regardless of age, like education, research, transportation and health care. It is not the balanced, compromise approach to budgeting I have consistently supported.
The Danger of Inaction
Non-partisan analyses of America's long term budget options indicate that we must reduce future deficits by about $4 trillion over the next ten years. Down the road, the cost of Medicare, in particular, will accelerate to unsustainable levels if we do nothing.
Today's Medicare recipients, and those set to enroll soon, have earned their benefits and have planned retirement accordingly, and will not be affected by changes. But we must plan ahead. Like many problems looming on the horizon, this one is best solved now.
We can not turn away from the challenge of protecting Medicare for future generations of American seniors. It has been an indispensable part of America's social fabric since the time I was born. But just as we risk seniors' health care by replacing Medicare under the Republicans' disastrous proposal, we put the nation's financial stability at risk if we do nothing.
I voted for a budget based on the bipartisan Simpson - Bowles proposals for comprehensive, disciplined reform. The editors of USA Today listed me as one of the bravest members of Congress for that vote. I voted against the Republican budget plan (the "Ryan Plan") that dismantles Medicare and shifts costs to seniors.
I helped pass the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act that ensures seniors can choose the doctor they trust.
I supported the Medicare Premium Fairness Act to protect seniors from Medicare Part B premium increases.
I voted for health care reform which gave seniors affected by the Medicare "doughnut hole" $250 toward their prescription drug costs.
I voted for an immediate 50% discount on brand-name prescriptions for seniors affected by the Medicare "doughnut hole."
I helped bring $1 million dollars to the state of Connecticut for senior nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels.
I secured $120,000 to complete the renovations to Cross Road Residences, a low-income senior housing complex in Stamford.
I helped secure a grant of $2.8 million to help renovate the Kingsway Apartments in Norwalk, helping seniors live comfortably while getting the daily care they need.
I called for a $250 payment to Social Security recipients in 2010 to help them make ends meet in a year with no Social Security cost-of-living increase.
I helped write and pass new laws that will help prevent another financial crisis by reining in the risky behavior that permeated Wall Street and helped cause the financial crisis. We can never again let excessively risky bets threaten the retirement savings of every American.