Privatize Social Security? Some Republicans Keep Talking About It

Privatize Social Security? Some Republicans Keep Talking About It

Sen. Joe Manchin
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, September 22, 2022

Happy Thursday. After a bit of drama, House Democrats passed their package of four police-funding and public safety bills, providing a messaging boost for moderates in tough reelection campaigns. It’s unclear whether any of the bills can pass the Senate. Also unclear: just how lawmakers will pass the government funding bill they have to get done by the end of the month.

Here’s what’s happening.

Manchin’s Energy Bill, Under Fire From Left and Right, Complicates Funding Stopgap

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) finally released the text of his bill to overhaul federal rules governing the permitting system for energy projects, but the proposal is being criticized by both liberal Democrats and quite a few Republicans, raising serious questions about whether the bill will make it into a must-pass government funding package that is expected to get a vote next week.

The Manchin bill would streamline the process for environmental review of proposed energy infrastructure projects, including a gas pipeline supported by the senator that would run through parts of Appalachia. It would also reduce the time allowed for court challenges of such projects and require the White House to name 25 energy projects that would receive priority in receiving permits.

Dozens of lawmakers have said they will not support the bill if it is attached to the stopgap funding package that Democrats are expected to introduce ahead of an October 1 deadline to avoid a partial government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has pledged to include the bill in the funding package, an agreement he made with the West Virginia centrist in return for his support of the Inflation Reduction Act.

On Thursday, Schumer set the table for a vote early next week, though the exact contents of the bill are still up in the air.

More than 80 House Democrats have formally asked Schumer to hold separate votes on the funding package and Manchin’s permitting reform proposal. House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) said Thursday that while he backs the funding bill, “it becomes very difficult” to support the overall package if Manchin's proposal is included.

In the Senate, Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) say they don’t want Manchin’s bill to be part of the funding package.

Seemingly motivated by anger at Manchin for supporting Democrats’ big climate package, few Republicans support the Manchin bill, despite their long-held interest in passing similar legislation that would benefit the energy industry. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said he doubted the full package could get the required 60 votes. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who has offered her own version of a permitting reform bill, said Thursday she would back Manchin’s bill, but it’s not clear that her support will change any minds on the Republican side of the aisle.

Manchin took note of his opposing forces earlier this week. “I’ve never seen stranger bedfellows than Bernie Sanders and the extreme liberals siding with Republican leadership,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday. “What I’m hearing is that this is like revenge politics, and basically revenge toward one person: me.”

The bottom line: If the fighting over Manchin’s permitting reforms delays a Senate vote, the House could take up the funding bill first next week — without the energy provisions. Either way, most lawmakers will be loathe to allow a government shutdown, making it highly likely that the short-term funding bill passes in time.

Biden Announces Emergency Aid for Puerto Rico

President Joe Biden on Thursday said the federal government would help cover the cost of cleaning up Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, which caused massive flooding and left more than a million people without electricity.

“I’ve authorized 100% — 100% federal funding for debris removal, search and rescue, water restoration and shelter and food for the whole month,” Biden told reporters at a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing in New York City.

Biden on Wednesday declared Puerto Rico a federal disaster area, clearing the way for FEMA to provide direct payments as well as low-cost loans to residents for home repairs and temporary housing.

Contrasting his efforts with those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, whom the president said “made things worse” in Puerto Rico with his response to Hurricane Maria in 2017, Biden assured the island’s residents that he intends to provide the aid they need.

“To the people of Puerto Rico who are still hurting from Hurricane Maria five years later, they should know that we are with you,” he said. “We’re not going to walk away. I mean it.”

Some Republicans Keep Flirting With Social Security and Medicare Privatization

Politico’s Natalie Allison reports that some Republicans keep floating the idea of privatizing Social Security and Medicare, despite the political perils involved in raising the idea — and despite the fact that every time the idea is floated, it sinks like a lead balloon.

“Privatizing government entitlement programs has long been a policy goal for some segments of the Republican Party who worry about the federal deficit and the growing share of the federal budget those programs take up,” Allison writes. “But [the programs] are hugely popular with voters, who plan their retirements around those benefits. And in recent years, particularly during the administration of former President Donald Trump, fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks have seen their issues relegated to the back burner while the party focused its messaging on hot-button social issues like immigration, crime and abortion.”

The privatization idea keeps resurfacing, though.

The latest example, Allison writes, is Don Bolduc, the Republican Senate nominee in New Hampshire, who reportedly called for privatizing Medicare during a campaign town hall in August before a spokesperson walked back the comments, telling Politico that the candidate now opposes privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Blake Masters, the Republican Senate candidate in Arizona, raised the idea of privatizing Social Security at a June forum. He also walked back the comments.

And Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin recently suggested that funding for Social Security and Medicare should be discretionary, not mandatory, meaning that lawmakers would have to approve the spending each year.

The bottom line: Democrats routinely charge that Republicans want to slash Social Security and Medicare, and plenty of GOP candidates seem bent on proving them right.

U.S. Cancer Deaths Continue to Fall: Report

Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 600,000 people a year. But cancer deaths in the U.S. are declining at an accelerated rate as the result of improvements in prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment, according to an annual report from the American Association for Cancer Research.

Cancer deaths fell by 2.3% a year between 2016 and 2019, the report says, and between 1991 and 2019 the age-adjusted overall cancer death rate dropped by 32% — which translates to nearly 3.5 million deaths avoided. Overall death rates among children and adolescents with cancer have fallen by more than half since 1970.

“The steady decline in the overall cancer death rate can be attributed mainly to the unprecedented progress against lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer, the four most common cancer types in the United States,” the report says.

There are now more than 18 million cancer survivors in the country, or about 5.4% of the population, up from 3 million, or 1.4% of the population, in 1971.

The cost of cancer care: The direct medical costs of cancer care in the United States were estimated to be $183 billion a of 2015, the last year for which data are available, according to the report. The cost of care for the 15 most prevalent cancers among privately insured patients under age 65 totaled an estimated $156 billion in 2018. Direct medical costs are projected to rise to $246 billion by 2030. “These numbers do not include the indirect costs of lost productivity due to cancer-related morbidity and mortality, which are also extremely high,” the report notes.

The bottom line: The last decade has seen “unprecedented progress” against cancer, the report says. “Thanks to the bipartisan leadership in Congress that has delivered steady, significant annual funding increases for NIH in recent years, we have never been in a better position to take lifesaving cancer science from the bench to the clinic,” Dr. Margaret Foti, chief executive officer of the American Association for Cancer Research, said in a statement. “Ensuring that medical research remains a high priority for our nation’s policy makers is vital if we are to maintain the momentum in advances against cancer, especially as we recover from the devastating impact of COVID-19 on cancer research and patient care.”

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