Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hoyer skeptical of calls for ad hoc COLA payments

Sept. 29, 2009 – 12:56 p.m.

Idea of $250 Payment to Seniors Gains No Traction With Hoyer

By David Clarke, CQ Staff

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer on Tuesday declined to throw his support behind providing senior citizens with a one-time payment of $250 to make up for the expected lack of a cost-of-living boost for Social Security recipients next year.

Senior citizen groups and many members of Congress want some action taken and have been advocating that Social Security recipients receive a $250 check, as would be the case under legislation (S 1685, HR 3597) introduced by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore. They argue that while inflation in general may not be on the rise — thus making a monthly cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) unlikely in 2010 — medical expenses and some other bills for seniors are increasing.

Hoyer, D-Md., did not explicitly say he is against providing such a payment, but he made the case to reporters that Congress has already taken action this year to help seniors.

As part of the economic stimulus bill () enacted in February, seniors received a one-time payment of $250, and last week the House passed a bill, 406-18, to prevent any senior from having their Medicare Part B premium, which covers physician services and outpatient care, increased next year.

"Frankly the Congress has taken very substantial action in consideration of the needs of our seniors," Hoyer said.

He also pointed out that Social Security recipients received a 5.8 percent cost of living adjustment this year, which is the largest since 1982.

But members of Congress do not like to disappoint seniors, who are active politically. And Democrats are especially attuned to the issue now as they work on a health care overhaul that has some seniors concerned about its impact on their benefits.

Consequently, Hoyer could be a lonely voice of protest against a Social Security boost, as he was last week when he was one of 18 members to vote against the Part B bill (HR 3631).

Hoyer argued 73 percent of seniors are already protected from such premium increases under law when they are not scheduled to get a boost in their Social Security payments and that Congress had to start making tough decisions given the state of the government's budget.

"I don't know how many of you go to sleep at night worried about whether Ross Perot can pay his premium, but this will freeze Ross Perot's basic premium from going up. I think that as well-meaning as this legislation is, it is not about poor seniors," Hoyer said on the House floor last week.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a group that advocates for seniors, is holding an event on Capitol Hill Wednesday to try to build support for a one-time payment for seniors.

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