POLITICAL SUICIDE: Senate (including 12 Dems) Nixes $250 Payout to Elderly

The Senate voted against a Bernie Sanders sponsored bill to provide $250 payouts to the elderly, the disabled and veterans. Sanders sponsored the measure because Social Security checks to these groups will stay flat this year; the bill would have provided a small measure of relief to 57 million Americans, many of whom live at or near the poverty level.

Reuters reports that:

A measure to give some 57 million elderly people, veterans and persons with disabilities a $250 check was rejected by the Senate on Wednesday…

President Barack Obama has called for Congress to approve the payments to make up for their benefits not increasing this year, but the Senate defeated it 50 to 47.

The payments would have added $13 billion to a $108 billion job-creation package pending in the Senate.

Social Security payments for the elderly and disabled will stay flat this year for the first time since 1975 because they are tied to consumer prices, which decreased amid the worst economic recession in 70 years.

The same article quotes the bill’s disappointed sponsor, Sen. Bernie Sanders as saying:

It is wrong to turn our backs on seniors in this moment of economic difficulty," said Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who sponsored the amendment.

But Republican Senator Judd Gregg pointed out that the bill would defeat the purpose of indexing Social Security payments to inflation.

"The law says it shouldn’t be given," Gregg said.

At least 10 Democrats [Diarist’s note: 12 by my count, see below]agreed with Gregg and joined 40 Republicans to defeat the proposal.

That’s the same Judd Gregg who voted against Obama’s stimulus measure and whom Obama once was pushing to be his Commerce Secretary.

Sadly, a number of liberal/moderate Democrats voted against relief to the seniors including:

Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin);
Bennett (D-Colorado);
Feinstein (D-California);
Levin (D-Michigan);
Udall (D-Colorado);

Other Democrats voting against the bill:

Bayh (Indiana);
Carper (Delaware);
Landrieu (LA);
McCaskill (MO);
Nelson (NE);
Shaheen (NH);
Warner (VA);

So by my count, complied from lists from the Senate, 12 Democrats voted against this measure designed to help the elderly.

It seems that many Democrats haven’t figured out yet that the elderly have the highest turnout percentages of any voting group, that they have tended to vote in high numbers for Democrats [which is the party that gave them Social Security], and that this is going to piss off a huge group of their base support. It’s likely that these average Americans will recall the trillions given in bailouts to big banks and Wall Street and the hundreds of billions voted on by the same Senators for defense appropriations without a question being raised, while their $250 checks (yes, that is TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS and ZERO CENTS) were denied them with the aid and assistance of 12 Democrats. Many of these elderly Americans will be asking and thinking:

What’s the difference between these two groups of politicians, the Republicans and the Democrats? They both give money to the same groups and it ain’t us.

Methinks the Democratic party essentially committed suicide with this vote.

Of course, the Liebercreature also voted against the elderly and disabled.

Snowe (Maine) was the only Republican senator who voted for the Sanders bill.

Especially disappointing was Russ Feingold’s position on this. Most of the readers of my diaries probably know I’m a big fan of Feingold. He’s up for reelection and maybe he thought it important to be a hawk on the deficit. But I doubt this will go over well with senior citizens in Wisconsin.

In fact, Feingold had just a few days earlier, on Friday, February 26th, held one of his famous "listening sessions" with his Wisconsin constituents in the tiny town of Park Falls, Wisconsin, where he answered questions from an estimated 30 voters. According to a local newspaper/website account, several of the comments came from disappointed seniors and Feingold attempted to mollify them with words and promises that seem to be quite different from his vote:

The next speaker was one of several senior citizens who were concerned because the Social Security Administration had deemed that there would be no increase in benefits because there had not been any inflation during the year 2009.

Some seniors noted that they had gotten a 5.8% increase the year before, but never had they gotten zero.

Feingold agreed that the lack of an increase for those on social security just doesn’t reflect reality.

“I think this is very unfortunate,” he said. “This does not really indicate what people’s costs are and I would like to put this in a bill which would review this very thing.”

Feingold said he did not want to debate this in Congress “because then nothing will ever get done; we need to move faster than that.”

Several seniors noted that the cost of eggs, milk and almost all other staples have gone up and they couldn’t imagine that there had been no inflation in 2009.

…Geraldine Schmidt said that because her husband passed away, she has lost his social security benefits — even though he paid into the program for all of his life.

“So, now I discover that I am living on the poverty level and this year with no increase in the COLA (cost of living adjustment) what do I do? I am really sure that the cost of bread and butter has gone up so how can they say those on social security should not get any increase at all. The COLA helps this program work and I don’t know why they want to destroy that.”

Feingold said that he hopes a Social Security fix will be coming in a broader bill.

Perhaps the good Senator will join us here to set the record straight and explain his vote?

Here is more official information from the Senate on this:

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 111th Congress – 2nd Session

as compiled through Senate LIS by the Senate Bill Clerk under the direction of the Secretary of the Senate

Vote Summary

Question: On the Motion (Motion to Waive Sec. 403(a) of S.Con.Res. 13, 111th Congress, re: Sanders Amdt. No. 3353 As Modified )
Vote Number: 36 Vote Date: March 3, 2010, 06:28 PM
Required For Majority: 3/5 Vote Result: Motion Rejected
Amendment Number: S.Amdt. 3353 to S.Amdt. 3336 to H.R. 4213 (Tax Extenders Act of 2009)
Statement of Purpose: To provide an emergency benefit of $250 to seniors, veterans, and persons with disabilities in 2010 to compensate for the lack of cost-of-living adjustment for such year, and for other purposes.
Vote Counts: YEAs 47
NAYs 50
Not Voting 3
Vote Summary By Senator Name By Vote Position By Home State

Alphabetical by Senator Name
Akaka (D-HI), Yea
Alexander (R-TN), Nay
Barrasso (R-WY), Nay
Baucus (D-MT), Yea
Bayh (D-IN), Nay
Begich (D-AK), Yea
Bennet (D-CO), Nay
Bennett (R-UT), Nay
Bingaman (D-NM), Yea
Bond (R-MO), Not Voting
Boxer (D-CA), Yea
Brown (D-OH), Yea
Brown (R-MA), Nay
Brownback (R-KS), Nay
Bunning (R-KY), Nay
Burr (R-NC), Nay
Burris (D-IL), Yea
Byrd (D-WV), Yea
Cantwell (D-WA), Yea
Cardin (D-MD), Yea
Carper (D-DE), Nay
Casey (D-PA), Yea
Chambliss (R-GA), Nay
Coburn (R-OK), Nay
Cochran (R-MS), Nay
Collins (R-ME), Nay
Conrad (D-ND), Yea
Corker (R-TN), Nay
Cornyn (R-TX), Nay
Crapo (R-ID), Nay
DeMint (R-SC), Nay
Dodd (D-CT), Yea
Dorgan (D-ND), Yea
Durbin (D-IL), Yea
Ensign (R-NV), Nay
Enzi (R-WY), Nay
Feingold (D-WI), Nay
Feinstein (D-CA), Nay
Franken (D-MN), Yea
Gillibrand (D-NY), Yea
Graham (R-SC), Nay
Grassley (R-IA), Nay
Gregg (R-NH), Nay
Hagan (D-NC), Yea
Harkin (D-IA), Yea
Hatch (R-UT), Nay
Hutchison (R-TX), Not Voting
Inhofe (R-OK), Nay
Inouye (D-HI), Yea
Isakson (R-GA), Not Voting
Johanns (R-NE), Nay
Johnson (D-SD), Yea
Kaufman (D-DE), Yea
Kerry (D-MA), Yea
Klobuchar (D-MN), Yea
Kohl (D-WI), Yea
Kyl (R-AZ), Nay
Landrieu (D-LA), Nay
Lautenberg (D-NJ), Yea
Leahy (D-VT), Yea
LeMieux (R-FL), Nay
Levin (D-MI), Nay
Lieberman (ID-CT), Nay
Lincoln (D-AR), Yea
Lugar (R-IN), Nay
McCain (R-AZ), Nay
McCaskill (D-MO), Nay
McConnell (R-KY), Nay
Menendez (D-NJ), Yea
Merkley (D-OR), Yea
Mikulski (D-MD), Yea
Murkowski (R-AK), Nay
Murray (D-WA), Yea
Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Nelson (D-NE), Nay
Pryor (D-AR), Yea
Reed (D-RI), Yea
Reid (D-NV), Yea
Risch (R-ID), Nay
Roberts (R-KS), Nay
Rockefeller (D-WV), Yea
Sanders (I-VT), Yea
Schumer (D-NY), Yea
Sessions (R-AL), Nay
Shaheen (D-NH), Nay
Shelby (R-AL), Nay
Snowe (R-ME), Yea
Specter (D-PA), Yea
Stabenow (D-MI), Yea
Tester (D-MT), Yea
Thune (R-SD), Nay
Udall (D-CO), Nay
Udall (D-NM), Yea
Vitter (R-LA), Nay
Voinovich (R-OH), Nay
Warner (D-VA), Nay
Webb (D-VA), Yea
Whitehouse (D-RI), Yea
Wicker (R-MS), Nay
Wyden (D-OR), Yea

I’m hoping that if Obama really supports this, as he claims, he and the Democratic Party will try to do it another way. That could be done, for instance, by modifying the way the cost of living is derived for the formula which in turn affects social security benefits. Like the citizens’ expressions in Wisconsin, I find it hard to believe there was zero inflation this past year (but I don’t claim to be an economist either, so help me out if you can). Another way that a similar result could be reached is to raised the minimum payout threshold to a higher level for all Social Security recipients. We should also be looking at INCREASING the level that the Social Security tax goes to (I think it stops now around $90,000 in income). That would provide for possibilities of more minimum payments to recipients and also stabilize the system over the long haul.

In the meantime, shame on the 12 Democrats who voted with a virtually united Republican party. If we cannot provide a little help to our old people, our disabled, and our veterans, who can we help? I guess the answer is big banks.

The bill would have cost only $13 billion, a trifle of what Wall St. received from most of the same Senators, and most of the money would have helped to stimulate the sluggish economy because it would have been spent, most probably, on food and other necessities. A double shame to the liberal/moderate Democrats who abandoned average Americans, many of them in a time of need.

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