A DIFFICULT road for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in the House of Representatives got much worse on Monday, when trade unions and pensioners demanded no cuts in Medicare to finance the trade deal.
Labour unions and senior citizens’ groups launched efforts to lobby House members against a bill that includes $700 million in proposed cuts to Medicare reimbursements for doctors and hospitals.
The cuts will be used to fund a $2.5 billion extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance funding, which aids workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade deals.
The TAA extension accompanies legislation known as Trade Promotion Authority, which gives President Barack Obama the ability to ‘fast-track’ trade deals, including TPP, a controversial trade agreement between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations. A letter was handed in from the trade unions stating:
‘Dear Representative: On behalf of our more than 11 million members, we write to express our opposition to the bill to renew Trade Adjustment Assistance which will be considered when the House debates Trade Promotion Authority. While we strongly support renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), the bill to be considered by the House falls short in a number of critical areas. This TAA bill fails to provide the annual funding needed to provide training, income and other support for workers.
‘Because of the size and breadth of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, these agreements will cause significant job dislocation. It is critical that Congress provide sufficient funding to support workers who have lost their jobs in the wake of trade agreements, and this bill fails to meet the anticipated need.
‘Importantly, this version of TAA does not cover public sector workers, who had been included in the renewal of TAA in 2009. According to a 2007 report by the Congressional Research Service, more than 12% of government jobs are offshorable or highly offshorable. Eligibility for TAA benefits must address the realities of trade and the broad range of workers at risk of job loss, including public sector workers.
‘This bill also fails to raise the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) from a maximum of 72.5% to 80%. Because not all workers are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the HCTC must be set at 80% in order to assist jobless workers who face the challenge of affording health coverage for their families. In addition, we oppose this bill because it cuts the Medicare program.
Specifically, it increases Medicare sequester cuts by $700 million in order to help fund TAA.
‘We are alarmed that the Medicare program would be raided to pay for completely unrelated legislation. Maintaining the financial integrity of Medicare is necessary to ensure that it is able to provide the services that seniors count on to keep them healthy and to safeguard their financial security in their twilight years.
‘We object to the lose-lose choice presented in this bill, that pits working families against seniors. There are other ways to fund TAA that will protect workers without undermining Medicare. Moreover, we oppose any sleight-of-hand that promises to fix the Medicare cut in a different bill. We know from past experience that these types of maneuvers often prove illusory. The issue of the TAA pay-for must be resolved within the TAA bill in order to ensure that the Medicare cut does not stand.
‘It is imperative that a comprehensive and appropriately funded TAA program be authorised by the Congress as part of any major trade package. Unfortunately, this TAA bill fails both tests and should be rejected.
Amalgamated Transit Union
American Federation of Government Employees
American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
American Federation of Teachers
Communications Workers of America
National Association of Letter Carriers
Service Employees International Union
International Brotherhood of Teamsters.’
Senior Citizens Groups wrote:
‘We are writing to urge you to oppose the current version of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which is expected to come up during the Trade Promotion Authority debate. As drafted, TAA would be paid for by extending the Medicare sequester until the end of 2024. As you may know, TAA provides job training, economic assistance and help with health benefits for workers who have been displaced due to trade agreements.
‘TAA has been an integral component of any trade deals since 1962. While we support providing assistance to displaced workers, we oppose using Medicare to pay for it. Cutting $700 million from Medicare to pay for something completely unrelated compromises the integrity of the programme. Furthermore, as the Academy of Family Physicians points out, taking money out of Medicare for TAA would be “damaging to the delivery of health care”.
‘Large corporations, which benefit the most from trade deals, should be asked to step up to the plate and fund TAA, not the more than 53 million seniors or disabled Medicare beneficiaries. Congress has previously used the Medicare sequester to fund other non-Medicare related items. This precedent should be avoided in the future, not continued through TAA. Medicare should not be used as a slush fund every time Congress is looking for a pay for.
‘Further, we also oppose any type of legislative sleight-of-hand that promises to fix the pay for at a later date in a different bill. We know from past experience that these types of maneuvers quite often prove illusory. The TAA pay for must be resolved at the front end and Members of Congress should not rely on promised fixes in the future.
‘Unless Congress comes up with a responsible alternative to fund TAA, one that does not raid Medicare, we urge you to vote against TAA. Seniors groups will be watching to ensure that you vote to protect the integrity of the Medicare trust fund.’
Alliance for Retired
Center for Medicare
Medicare Rights Center
National Committee to
Preserve Social Security and Medicare
Social Security Works
Strengthen Social Security Coalition
Wider Opportunities for Women