Republican control of Congress means that senior service programs—most of which have been frozen for years—will face growing budget pressures. At the same time, the GOP also may try to give states more flexibility in the way they provide Medicaid and other benefits to the elderly and disabled. And while the GOP leadership will be under pressure from Tea Party conservatives to trim Social Security and Medicare benefits, it is less likely a Republican Congress will try to do so without bipartisan support.
Republicans will have a majority of the Senate but not close to the 60 votes necessary to pass most legislation. And they will be even further from the 67 they’ll need to override any of President Obama’s vetoes. Thus it is likely that the fate of most senior service programs will be decided in a handful of key spending bills, where Republicans will have some important legislative advantages now that they control the Senate as well as the House.
A top priority for most GOP lawmakers, including several newly-elected Republican senators, is to shrink the size of government. Because many will want to boost funding for the military, they will especially target domestic spending.
In that environment, senior services programs will do no better than have their budgets frozen for the next two years. And they could very well see significant cuts.
Programs such as Meals on Wheels, supportive services, family caregiver support, and feeding programs for people in congregant care may be particular targets. Even President Obama’s 2015 budget would freeze these programs and others operated by the Administration for Community Living. Obama proposed cutting the overall ACL budget for this year. Look for a Republican Congress to cut even more deeply.
The Older Americans Act, the 1965 law that authorizes many of these programs, has not been extended. Its fate too is now up in the air.
Other programs are also in trouble. Obama proposed slashing the popular Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program (LIHEAP) by 20 percent and a GOP Congress is likely to trim it even more. Another program in the budget bulls eye: The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which has limited support even among congressional Democrats.
The first clue to what happens to all these spending programs will come in the next few weeks. A temporary spending bill to keep the government operating expires on Dec. 11. One option for the lame duck Congress: Extend government funding at current levels through next September (the end of the fiscal year). The other: Extend funding only until spring and begin fighting the budget wars as soon as the new Congress returns in January.
Keep in mind that next October, the automatic across-the-board domestic spending cuts known as the sequester will once again kick in. The sequester was suspended when Democrats and Republicans agreed to a temporary truce last December. But because those automatic cuts would bite if Congress cannot agree on a budget, Republicans will have an edge when it comes to negotiating spending.
Medicaid long-term supports and services may get less attention than these budget issues. But GOP governors may push for more flexibility to operate those programs, and some may request a block grant that would link Medicaid with housing, transportation, and other services. They argue that the changes would allow states to better integrate a broad set of services for people with disabilities, including the frail elderly. But many Democrats fear it would eventually make it easier for governors to cut this assistance.
It is less likely that Republicans will try to tackle Medicare or Social Security benefits before the 2016 presidential election. Previous efforts have failed and GOP strategists know they cannot get 60 votes to pass such changes in the Senate. Even if they did, Obama would veto such cuts. It is possible, however, that Congress and Obama could agree to higher Medicare premiums for high-income retirees, an idea that both parties have supported at different times in the past.
Would Obama be so quick to veto other cuts to senior service programs? That’s not clear. He’s never been a huge fan, and if they were packed in a budget that is otherwise acceptable to him, I would not be surprised if he accepted at least some spending cuts to these programs.
I have a very sick husband and no retirement. T am sick at heart over the Republican victory. Where were the Democrats to prevent the possibility of all this happening. Children without food, families thrown out of there homes to line the pockets of the rich, old people allowed to end their life in misery. . . that’s what we can look forward to.
There is no social justice in the Republican party,