As the 118th Congress begins its deliberations, one issue must command the attention of all Americans, whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent: the demand by some to bar raising the debt ceiling until a new budget with deep spending cuts is passed. The spending cuts they propose would radically alter two programs that have made it possible for both the disabled and the elderly to live decent lives in an ever-expensive economy: Social Security and Medicare, both of which are funded by direct deductions from working Americans' paychecks.
Recent Medicare reforms have favorably affected the price of certain drugs which many older adults rely on, and opened the way for future drug price negotiations. Certain proposals would strip Medicare of these advances. Proposed changes like raising the eligibility age to 67 are doubtful of passage, but we must keep our eyes open to ensure that the Medicare we have paid for all our working lives is not undermined and we are not left lost at sea in a sinking healthcare boat.
The plan would raise the age of Social Security eligibility to 70—made all the more galling by lowering life expectancy largely due to COVID and drug overdoses. Would further alterations to Medicare follow? Polls clearly show how unpopular changes to these bedrock programs would be with voters. Even former President Donald Trump has advised Congress not to touch either program, despite his history of threatening to defund Social Security.
Since our founding in 1970 by Maggie Kuhn, Gray Panthers has been a stalwart advocate for the rights of older adults and a defender of Medicare and Social Security. Indeed, Maggie was an early proponent of removing the profit motive from healthcare. When the Reagan administration threatened Social Security, Kuhn and the Gray Panthers made maintaining Social Security a top priority. In 2008 we stood against Obama's proposal for a Commission to study changes in Medicare and Social Security.
We are a series of multi-generational local advocacy networks in the United States which confront ageism and other structural injustices. Our motto is Age and Youth in Action. Not only is every one of us aging—each of us is impacted by the structural injustices of ageism, sexism, genderism, racism and classism. Protecting these popular and successful programs now and advocating against injustice in healthcare, employment, and civil rights will make ours a better society, a better model for people seeking democracy all over the world. Defending Social Security and Medicare will not only protect our disabled and older citizens today–it will maintain a foundation for all generations to enjoy successful and healthful senior years.
We call on our legislators to stand firm with President Biden and not allow our nation to be held hostage by demands to meddle with Medicare and Social Security. We also call on Senate and House leadership to rally your caucuses to protect our current and future older Americans. This can be done by their doing what many Americans want: raise the debt ceiling without negotiating changes to Social Security and Medicare.