Super John: Kerry has big items on agenda


By Al Norman

John Kerry has some big decisions to make.

The senior senator from Massachusetts, as a member of the so-called “Super Committee” in Congress, has to come up with $1.5 trillion in cuts to the federal budget. There are those in Congress who see this is a super opportunity to cut programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I am hoping that John Kerry is not one of them.

The Super Committee has only until Nov. 23 to make its recommendations, which will be fast-tracked for an up-or-down vote in Congress a couple of day before Christmas. Lawmakers will not be able to make changes to the Super Committee’s recommendations.

It has already been leaked that President Obama will be recommending that the Social Security retirement age be raised to 67. As baby boomers already know, the retirement age for them is already on the rise. Social Security has not contributed to the federal deficit — it has alleviated it. Its trust funds have been used for borrowing in the past to lower the perceived deficit. The system is solvent in the near-term, and can be fixed without breaking the intergenerational bond between today’s workers and the retirees who paid into the system for decades.

More worrisome is the fear the Congress will cut the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security. The COLA already doesn’t reflect the real cost of living facing older people due to higher than average use of medical services and medications.

Then there is Medicare. More that 1 million people in Massachusetts depend on Medicare. Most beneficiaries on Medicare live on modest incomes. More than half have a household income of less than $20,000 per year. Any plan to raise the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 or increase copayments would hurt many of Kerry’s constituents who get their health care from an employer.

Finally, 1.2 million people in the Commonwealth depend on Medicaid as their health plan. If they need long term care or nursing home care — it is the Medicaid program that must address that need — not Medicare. Already the Medicaid program is full of holes, like vision, hearing and dental care. It’s a safety net program, because if people fall through the net here, they fall into the no care zone.

The “Super Committee” needs to find ways to protect income support and social insurance programs for low-income Americans. A balanced strategy must include revenue raisers and, where necessary, spending cuts.

Raising the tax rate on upper income earners (including unearned income), and on corporate revenues, is a reasonable sharing of the burden of meeting our obligations to the vulnerable in our communities. Closing tax loopholes and exemptions, or means testing deductions and exemptions, is also an approach worth considering.

Reducing the federal budget deficit is important, but spending cuts should not be made at the expense of economically disadvantaged seniors and younger Americans. Due to the recent economic downturn, more seniors than ever need assistance and support to make ends meet. Any plan that relies only on budget cuts, with no expanded revenues, is unfairly targeted at the poor and middle class, who have contributed the least to our current economic crises.

So, make a call to Kerry’s Boston office at 617-565-8519. Tell him to stand firmly against cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. After all, he is now our “senior” senator.

Al Norman is the executive director of Mass Home Care. He can be reached at 413-773-5555, or at