Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Friday March 1st, 2013, 3:56pm

Illinois Legislators Meet With Seniors To Talk Budget Cuts, Social Security & Medicare (VIDEO)

With no resolution in sight when it comes to finding a balance between bringing down the federal deficit and ensuring that the social safety net stays intact, many of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens are concerned about the future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

At a meeting at Frisbie Senior Center in Des Plaines this morning, U.S. Reps. Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8), Bill Foster (D, IL-11) and Jan Schakowsky (D, IL-9) discussed budget cuts with a group of approximately 50 seniors and collected more than 4,000 petitions calling for benefit protections.

The petitions urged Congress to “protect the benefits we have worked for, paid for and earned” and “defeat privatization and other proposals that threaten my retirement and health security.”

“If there are any cuts to Medicare or Social Security, that would plunge me into the poverty level,” said Judi Riordan, 65, a resident of Illinois for 47 years. A retiree from the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services, Riordan said she is a recipient of a state pension, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and her income is at the “mercy of the government."

“My husband and I support ourselves and we both get a state pension. It’s fantastic to know some members of Congress support us, but I’m nervous,” she said.

Partisan gridlock in Congress has prevented a legislative solution to the sequester — a $1.2 trillion package of spending cuts over the next decade. Adding up to $85 billion this year alone, the sequester is set to trigger automatic budget cuts across federal agencies.

“There is a direct link between a strong middle class and a thriving economy and gutting these programs that the middle class depends on for their retirement security is the wrong way to go,” Foster said during the meeting. “The middle class faces a real threat if we don’t get our priorities in order.”

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have been spared from the sequester chopping block. However, Schakowsky said the sequester could mean cuts to seniors’ transportation services, meals, legal services and family caregivers. Also, cuts to the Social Security administrative department could translate to a longer wait time for disability payments.

The Democratic alternative to the sequester called for a “Buffet Rule”,  or a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent on adjusted gross incomes above $2 million, and other revenue generating initiatives. Republicans do not support raising taxes as a sequester substitute, but instead favor giving Obama authority to decide where to cut $85 million or make changes to federally-funded programs like Social Security.

“We’ve got a real fight on our hands,” said Schakowsky in the meeting. “The price for getting rid of the sequester, according to the Republicans, is that they are demanding cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and we are saying 'no'."

In an interview after the meeting, Foster regarded the petitions, saying “Congress responds to the voice of the public and these petitions are a very effective expression of that voice.”

Schakowsky, Foster and Duckworth all spoke in favor of eliminating preferential tax treatment for the wealthiest Americans, including lifting the cap of $113,700 on Social Security contributions (workers who make more than that don’t have to pay Social Security taxes on that income).

Schakowsky committed to urging Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower medicine prices. Duckworth said she supported ending subsidies for oil and gas industries as a measure to avoid cuts.

“My bosses have sent me my marching orders, my bosses have told me what’s important, my bosses say ‘preserve Social Security, preserve Medicare, protect Medicaid.' If we have to cut we can cut in other places, but be smart,” said Duckworth at the meeting.

Duckworth said that, although she loved being home, she wished Congress was in session “hammering out an agreement” to cut spending and preserve social services.

“We didn’t become the richest nation on Earth, we didn’t become the strongest nation on Earth without your hard work,” she said to the group of seniors. “These are not entitlements, these are benefits that you have earned and they belong to you.”

Here's more from Duckworth at the meeting:

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) sponsored the petitions, which went out through mail as well as email to the organization’s 97,518 members.

“I have never seen a bigger disconnect between what the people want and what’s going on in Washington,” said Max Richtman, president and chief executive officer of the NCPSSM. “Americans of all ages, all political stripes, do not want Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts, and yet we hear a different message in Washington.”

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