By Bob Blancato
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org .
What’s in store for older Americans from the 2020 presidential election?
For answers, the American Society on Aging (ASA) just hosted its Panel of Pundits — an annual event that’s been running for almost 20 years. I moderated. Normally, the panel is held at ASA’s annual Aging in America conference to a standing-room crowd. This year, of course, it was a webinar; nearly 200 people watched.
The five panelists brought a range of political perspectives and decades of experience in the aging and political worlds:
Peter Kaldes, president and CEO of ASA and a former Obama economic adviser
Richard Browdie of Browdie Consulting, formerly president and CEO of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Aging
Joel White, founder and president of Horizon Government Affairs and former Republican staff director of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee
Jay Newton-Small, a journalist for Time and Bloomberg News and co-founder and CEO of the MemoryWell digital platform to improve the care of elders
John Zogby, founder and senior partner of the John Zogby Strategies polling firm
I opened the session asking the panelists to give a one-word description of 2020 so far. The responses were as dire as the year has been; Newton-Small called the year “Armageddon.”
During the freewheeling webinar, I asked the pundits everything from their outlook for a coronavirus vaccine (they were divided on whether there’d be one in 2020) to whether the Senate would flip in November and become Democratic-controlled (most thought it would, but said not to count out the re-election of current Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell).
Panelists were united on two issues: All thought the 2020 federal election would not go off without serious hitches, which could delay final election results. And all were in support of a fourth coronavirus emergency package, but most felt it wouldn’t be done by October 1.
Here’s where they came down on four key topics: Social Security, Medicare and telehealth; prescription drug prices and their views on the top aging-related policy change they’d like to see, whoever is elected president:
Most of the pundits felt that Social Security was not on the table as a 2020 election issue. However, most felt its solvency would be a serious issue in 2021 caused by increased unemployment lowering contributions to Social Security as well as the rising deficit.
I asked whether President Trump put Social Security back on the political table when he suspended its payroll tax to provide stimulus checks to the American public. And, I queried, shouldn’t we start thinking seriously about the exhaustion of the Social Security trust fund?
Joel White: “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Do we care about the Trust Funds and fiscal responsibility and all that stuff? Are you kidding me? We’ve got a $3.3 trillion deficit staring us in the face according to CBO [Congressional Budget Office] and the last time I heard someone on the Hill talk about trust fund balances and deficits and stuff like that, I think I was still on the Hill [from 2004-2007]. I don’t think the Social Security issue is back on the political table this year. I think it’s back on the table next year, when we have a budget, whether Biden is elected or Trump is re-elected.”
Rich Browdie: “I would agree with Joel’s assessment…. And I do think that the Social Security financing thing will be back, and the next president, whether he’s planning to deal with it or not, he’s going to have to dip in.”
Peter Kaldes: “I suspect that if candidate Biden wins, the next day we’ll start hearing about balancing budgets again. So, I’m a little concerned about that. But I’m with Rich on this one; I think…using payroll taxes as a tool is something that President Obama did as well in some ways.”(In 2011 and 2012, the Obama administration cut payroll taxes by 2 percentage points to 4.2 percent.)
Jay Newton-Small: “The Republican National Convention for the first time, I think in history, did not have a platform this year. So, it’s hard to know for sure what President Trump’s second-term agenda, if he were to be re-elected, would be. But he’s certainly spoken a lot about tackling deficits and entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and appeasing more of the fiscal conservatives that he’s got. But I do think, similarly, Joe Biden — as Peter was saying — if he were elected, would also tackle those issues.”
John Zogby: ‘Social Security really faces insolvency just 10 years from now. So, when do we begin the debate again about either a new funding mechanism for Social Security, because demographically, there aren’t enough young people who are working to sustain the numbers of baby boomers and income Gen Xers? Ten years is not far away. Or are we in a situation where we kick the can down the road? But at least for now, the federal debt and deficit continue to grow almost exponentially and yet Social Security is just not on the table right now. But it has to be.”