At a political candidates’ forum on Social Security and Medicare today in Big Flats, Martha Robertson, the Democratic candidate for 23rd Congressional District, debated with an empty chair. Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, was invited to the forum, but chose not to appear there. About 30 people attended.
The moderator was Rev. Gary McCaslin. Karen Biesanz read prepared answers based on Tom Reed’s public voting record. Reed’s district director, Joe Sempolinski was present, but was not allowed to address the audience–a decision that seemed agreeable to those present. No excuse was given for Reed’s absence.
Here are the questions presented by the moderator:
- Social Security is healthy and will be able to pay all benefits due until the year 2033. What is your proposal for maintaining the health of Social Security after that date?
- In the last three years, 80 Social Security offices and 500 satellite offices have been closed across the country; 13 of those offices have been here in New York State. Hours open to the public are being cut, access is by appointment only, and there is a movement to have all Social Security questions reviewed exclusively online(called Vision 2025). Social Security has no effect on the federal budget as all the services are funded by the Social Security taxes that we all pay. What is your position on reopening closed offices, restoring office hours and services?
- Medicare, health care coverage for senior citizens and the disabled, provides access to medical insurance coverage and health care to millions who previously went without. In the past few years there have been concerns about the future of this program although under the Affordable Care Act, the health of the Medicare trust fund has been improved extending its life to 2030. However, there have been many bills in Congress to change Medicare. One of these proposals has been to raise the age of eligibility. There is also a proposal to change the basic nature of the program by making it into a voucher program turning it over to the private insurance industry. There has been an expressed desire to expand Medicare into a universal single payer system that covers all Americans. How do you stand on each of these proposals and what other ideas do you have for maintaining the future health of Medicare?
- There are currently many programs that comprise America’s Social Safety Net which are designed to reduce the poverty rate. These programs include: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps (SNAP,) Public Assistance, Minimum Wage, Veterans Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Housing Assistance, Legal Aid, Job Training and Worker’s Compensation. Roughly two thirds of Americans are dependent on at least one of these programs; yet Congress is slashing many of the Safety Net benefits for the poorest Americans. At the same time, Defense Spending is increasing, many Fortune 500 corporations pay no taxes and receive billions in government subsidies, and the wealthiest Americans pay taxes at a lower rate than the middle class. As a representative of New York’s 23rd District in Washington, what will you do to address this inequity?
Here are some of the points Martha Robertson made in answering the above questions:
- Middle class needs a voice in Congress, seniors need a voice.
- Social Security funding would be more than adequate if the cap on taxable income were repealed–“scrap the cap.”
- Preserve access to SS offices for all, including rural areas of NY-23.
- Use government purchasing power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices currently prohibited by law.
- Preserve guarantee of medical care, opposed to vouchers.
- Preserve social safety net for those in need.
- Raise Federal minimum wage.
A question from the audience (I believe a hostile question from a Reed staffer) “Where do you stand on Medicare for all?” Martha answered that Medicare can be made solvent, AHC already benefits all but should be strengthened, we should stay with what we have.
A second question concerned a 2006 Medicare law making it illegal for the government to negotiate drug costs. Martha said that was a “mistake” due to lobbying by special interests such as those who fund Tom Reed’s campaign.
A third question asked about Medicare insolvency. Martha said claims of insolvency reflect “fear mongering.”
A final question, probably hostile, asked about plans to rob Social Security to pay for Social Security Disability. Martha replied that “scrapping the cap” and taxing dividends would make it unnecessary to take money from one program to fund another.
Martha concluded by noting that affordable health care for all is a basic human right.
The forum was sponsored by Citizen Action of New York, Elmira/Corning NAACP, NYS United Teachers Retirement Council 46, Tompkins County Chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women); NYS Alliance for Retired Americans,PEF Retirees Chapter 2, Restore the American Promise Network and Social Security Works.
© William Hungerford – October 2014