Rep. Ted Deutch: Tax the rich to extend Social Security

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, calls for extending Social Security payroll taxes to incomes above $127,200. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

With Social Security facing solvency problems in less than 20 years, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, is reintroducing his bill to extend the life of the program by hitting higher-income earners with a payroll tax increase.

Don’t expect Deutch’s plan to get anywhere in the Republican-controlled House. His similar bill in the last Congress never got a hearing, and the chairman of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee — Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas — was dismissive of the concept at a hearing last week.

Workers and employers each pay a 6.2 percent payroll tax — or a combined 12.4 percent — on earnings up to $127,200 to finance Social Security retirement and disability benefits. Deutch’s bill would eliminate the cap, making all income subject to Social Security taxes.

(In addition to the Social Security tax, workers and employers each pay a 1.45 percent tax — or a combined 2.9 percent — to pay for Medicare. There is no cap on income subject to the Medicare tax.)

Social Security Trustees report released last week estimates that, if no changes are made to the system, Social Security will only be able to pay 93 percent of promised disability benefits beginning in 2028 and will only be able to pay 77 percent of promised retirement benefits beginning in 2035.

That means a person who is 49 years old today would see about three-quarters of promised benefits when he or she reaches the retirement age of 67.

So revenue increases or spending reductions are needed to preserve Social Security’s long-term viability. Some Republicans, including Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have proposed gradually increasing the retirement age for younger workers — but not current beneficiaries or those nearing retirement — to extend the program’s solvency.

The Social Security trustees don’t recommend a course of action in their report, but urge Congress to act soon.

“The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them,” the new report says. “Implementing changes sooner rather than later would allow more generations to share in the needed revenue increases or reductions in scheduled benefits and could preserve more trust fund reserves to help finance future benefits.”

Subjecting all income to the Social Security tax would make the retirement program solvent through 2067, Social Security Chief Actuary Stephen Goss said at a Ways and Means hearing last week. The program’s expenditures would begin exceeding revenues in 2026, he said, and would draw on reserves to pay benefits for the next four decades.

“So even if we get completely rid of the taxable maximum, the program will be running cash-flow deficits within the next decade, is that true?” Subcommittee Chairman Johnson said. “That sure doesn’t get us much and as I’ve said before we clearly can’t tax our way to solvency.”

In addition to his proposal to make all income subject to the payroll tax, Deutch’s bill proposes to make annual cost-of-living adjustments more generous to retirees by using a Consumer Price Index for seniors, called CPI-E, instead of the CPI-W formula currently in use.

The CPI-E, as calculated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, places more emphasis on housing and medical costs than the regular CPI formula. For the 30 years ending in 2011, CPI-E  increased by an average of 3.1 percent per year rather than 2.9 percent a year for CPI-W.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“I’m proud to once again join with my friend Senator Hirono to re-introduce this bill,” Deutch said in a statement released by his office. “Social Security is a fundamental program that protects millions of American workers’ economic security. It protects retirees, people with disabilities, and families who have lost a breadwinner. Yet, with President Trump willing to break his promise of protecting Social Security from cuts, and with ongoing threats to the program from Congressional Republicans, it’s more important than ever to fight for Social Security. We are standing with the American people who want Social Security protected and strengthened, not weakened. For many of my constituents, Social Security is the only thing keeping them from having to choose between medicine and a meal. Our bill bolsters Social Security to continue its success as the most efficient, effective, and popular promise we make to our fellow Americans.”

A budget plan released by House Republicans this week does not specifically address changes to Social Security retirement benefits, but calls for savings in the Disability Insurance program by eliminating payment of both unemployment and disability benefits to a recipient.


Why Gov. Rick Scott isn’t meeting with Sen. Bill Nelson in Washington

Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Washington, D.C., today.

UPDATED with response from Nelson

WASHINGTON — Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s schedule here today includes meetings with Vice President Mike Pence and at least five senators, including Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, to discuss the Senate health care bill.

But the governor hasn’t penciled in any time with his state’s senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson.

Republican Scott is expected to challenge Nelson next year, with President Donald Trump among those encouraging Scott to run.

Nelson slammed the GOP-drafted Senate health care bill when it was unveiled last week, calling it “just as bad as the House bill, taking coverage away from millions of people and making huge cuts to Medicaid.”

Scott, who wants changes to the Senate bill so Florida gets a larger share of Medicaid payments, said talking to Nelson would be a waste of time.

“He’s not engaged in the health care debate,” Scott said of Nelson today in an interview with The Palm Beach Post. “What have you seen him come out and do other than oppose doing anything about this?”

Scott continued: “I’m going to focus on the people that are actually doing something with regard to the health care debate. The Republicans have a bill and I’m going to focus on the people that are actually trying to get something done. I appreciate that Donald Trump is focused on repealing and replacing Obamacare. I know Mike Pence is. I know the Senate Republicans are trying to get something done. I’m going to focus my time on trying to get something done.”

Nelson offered this response through his office this morning: “Rick Scott is supporting and urging Republican senators to vote for a bill that makes huge cuts to Medicaid, takes coverage away from 22 million of people and allows insurance companies to hike rates for older Americans. If he really cared about the people of Florida, he’d be doing the exact opposite of what he’s doing now.”


Health care: Rick Scott in Washington, Florida House and Senate staffers embedded with Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio says he wants Florida input and Gov. Rick Scott says he’ll “fight for Florida” as the Senate considers a health care bill.

WASHINGTON — Gov. Rick Scott will meet here today with Vice President Mike Pence and others after pledging last week to “fight for Florida” on the Senate health care bill.

And Scott isn’t the only Tallahassee employee in town.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, have each sent staffers here to work out of the office of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who hasn’t said whether he’ll support legislation that the Congressional Budget Office says would result in 22 million fewer Americans being insured.

Rubio will decide whether to support the health care bill “on the basis of how it impacts Florida,” his office said last week. He asked Negron and Corcoran to send staffers so he can analyze the bill through a Florida lens.

Scott’s schedule today includes a 10:30 a.m. Fox News interview, the Pence meeting at noon and afternoon meetings with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John Thune of South Dakota and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Scott and Rubio are also scheduled to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the afternoon.

Follow, and @gbennettpost on Twitter for more reporting from Washington.



Gov. Rick Scott says he’ll ‘fight for Florida’ in Washington next week

Florida Gov. Rick Scott during a January visit to Washington for President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he’ll visit Washington next week to “fight for Florida” on the details of a Senate health care bill.

Scott joins Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in publicly professing wariness over the health care bill, which was unveiled Thursday after top-secret talks among Senate GOP leaders. Rubio said he wants input from Scott and other Florida leaders before deciding whether to support the bill.

Details of Scott’s trip haven’t been released, but the governor often visits President Donald Trump, the part-time Palm Beacher who last week publicly urged Scott to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

Here’s what Scott said in a statement released by his office this afternoon:

“I would like to thank Senator Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans for working to eliminate the high taxes, fees and unreasonable mandates of Obamacare. I also want to thank President Trump for his commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare. I have been carefully reviewing the bill and next week, I will be traveling to Washington to meet with Congressional leaders to provide input on how we can make the bill better for Floridians. 

“First, all states must be treated equitably. Florida taxpayers deserve the same treatment as every other state under the Medicaid program. Second, every American, including those with pre-existing conditions, should have the ability to buy any kind of insurance they want. This will drive down costs and give people the flexibility and power to determine what they want to buy. 

“There seems to be a lot of people advocating for more government and higher costs in Washington and not a lot of people advocating on behalf of taxpayers. I look forward to traveling to Washington to fight for Florida families and ensure there is a health care proposal that dismantles the terrible, expensive mess of Obamacare. Let’s remember, costs have skyrocketed under Obamacare and we need a new health care policy that allows patients to have access to quality healthcare at an affordable price.”

Health care: Marco Rubio wants Florida input; Bill Nelson slams GOP bill

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, left, and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will decide whether to support a Republican health care bill “on the basis of how it impacts Florida,” his office said this afternoon.

Rubio’s office characterized the just-unveiled legislation as a work in progress as four other Senate Republicans  — Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — issued a joint statement saying they are “not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor.”

Overturning former President Barack Obama‘s signature health care law was a top campaign pledge of President Donald Trump and much of the GOP. The House has passed a version that Trump initially celebrated but later reportedly called “mean.”

Republicans hold a 52-seat majority in the Senate, so more than two GOP defections will doom the bill if Democrats are united against it.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who’s up for re-election next year, blasted the GOP legislation and the way it was drafted.

“Now we know why they tried to keep this secret,” Nelson said in a statement released by his office. “This bill is just as bad as the House bill, taking coverage away from millions of people and making huge cuts to Medicaid. If that weren’t enough, it also allows insurance companies to hike rates for older Americans. Fixing our nation’s health care system shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We should be working together, not plotting behind closed doors to make it worse.”

Rubio has already spoken with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and invited their staffs to Washington “to help us formulate changes and amendments to this proposal,” said a statement released by Rubio’s office. Rubio also wants to hear from health care providers, insurers and patient advocates, his office said.

Here’s the full statement from Rubio’s office:

“Senator Rubio will decide how to vote on health care on the basis of how it impacts Florida. He has already spoken to Governor Scott, Senate President Negron and Speaker Corcoran about the first draft of this proposal. He has instructed his staff to share with state leaders the first draft and has asked them to run numbers and provide input on how this initial proposal would impact Florida’s Medicaid program and individual insurance marketplace. He has invited them to send staff to Washington next week to help us formulate changes and amendments to this proposal. He will continue to reach out for input and suggested changes from Florida providers, insurers and patient advocate groups.”

Rick Scott hails Donald Trump as ‘partner’ to fix Lake Okeechobee dike

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and Gov. Rick Scott talk about the 2017-18 budget at the South Florida Water Management District headquarters today.

Transformed from fiscal foes to budget buddies, Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, stopped in Palm Beach County today to highlight the $83 billion budget lawmakers approved last week after months of disagreement.

Scott also saluted President Donald Trump as a “partner” in efforts to accelerate repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

Corcoran and Scott answer questions from reporters in West Palm Beach.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to spend $930 million in federal money on dike projects through 2025. Scott hopes to get the repairs done by 2022. Florida’s 2017-18 budget includes $50 million toward dike repairs, with Scott expressing hope the state will be reimbursed by the federal government.

“Under President Obama I kept asking for help with the dike and we didn’t get anywhere,” Scott told reporters at the South Florida Water Management District headquarters in unincorporated West Palm Beach. “President Trump has committed to being a partner. He’s going to make sure we get that dike finished. My goal is to get the dike finished by 2022.”

Asked how Florida will get reimbursed, Scott said, “We’re still working through how that would happen.”

Scott said Florida has made similar arrangements with the Corps for a Port of Miami dredging and a project in Jacksonville.

“We have to take care of our state. This is part of our state. It might be a federal project, but the dike’s important to everybody, especially in this part of the state,” Scott said.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard, left, joins House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott at a lemonade stand outside the South Florida Water Management District headquarters.

Scott said part-time Palm Beach resident Trump understands the importance of Lake Okeechobee.

“I sat down with President Trump and I let him know the importance of the dike and he had some knowledge of the dike because he’s been down here in Palm Beach,” Scott said. “And so he is committed to making sure we get that done. Now, every dollar adds to, accelerates it. My goal is to get it done by 2022. In his case, he’s going to work through Congress getting it done. I’m going to continue to work through the speaker and the Senate to have funding every year to get this done.”

Scott and Corcoran are visiting five Florida cities today to promote the budget. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, couldn’t make the tour because he and other Senate Republicans are attending a previously scheduled fundraising retreat in California.

Corcoran slammed business incentives favored by Scott as “corporate welfare,” but ended up agreeing to $85 million in incentive money after the program was changed to benefit public projects rather than specific private businesses. Corcoran also relented on tourist-promotion money after saying he was satisfied that additional accountability safeguards were added in.

Many Tallahassee insiders speculate that Corcoran agreed to some of Scott’s spending priorities in exchange for the governor’s agreement to sign a Corcoran-backed education bill, HB 7069, that promotes charter schools. Both Corcoran and Scott said no deal was struck. Scott said he is still “reviewing” the education bill before deciding whether to sign or veto it.

Gov. Rick Scott signs Palm Beach, Martin County bills

Gov. Rick Scott during a 2014 campaign visit to West Palm Beach.

Gov. Rick Scott signed 29 bills late Tuesday, including five dealing with Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

Here are the bills, as described by the governor’s office:

HB 531 — Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County – This bill increases the maximum time frame for contracts for waste hauler franchises from five years to seven years.

CS/HB 737 — Port of Palm Beach District – This bill codifies the Port of Palm Beach District’s charter and authorizes commissioners to designate foreign trade zones within the district.

CS/HB 1135 — West Palm Beach Police Pension Fund – This bill makes various changes to the pension fund as agreed upon between the City of West Palm Beach and the union representing West Palm Beach police officers.

HB 1297 — Building Code Advisory Board of Palm Beach County – This bill revises the nomination process for local appointees to the board and expands list of industry associations to include any recognized regional trade association.

CS/HB 259 — Indiantown — This bill creates the Village of Indiantown in Martin County if approved by a referendum of local voters.







Mystery mailers from Illinois target Joe Negron as special session begins

Mailer from an Illinois address hits state Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, over an education bill.

As Florida lawmakers begin a special session in Tallahassee today to address a budget agreement between Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders, voters in state Senate President Joe Negron‘s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach district are getting mailers from a newly formed Illinois-based PAC criticizing Negron’s role in an education bill that’s closely identified with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes.

HB 7069 promotes charter schools and has drawn the wrath of teacher unions and others who say it will weaken traditional public schools. After passage by the House and Senate, it’s up to Scott to sign or veto the bill, which was a top priority of Corcoran.

Corcoran softened his hard-line opposition to funding business and tourism incentives and agreed to increase public school funding in the budget deal with Scott. Many Tallahassee watchers believe Corcoran moved toward Scott’s position on the budget in exchange for a pledge from the governor to sign HB 7069. Scott, however, said he’s still reviewing Corcoran’s bill.

Negron, a Republican from Stuart, also supports HB 7069.

The mailer from a group called SunshinePac from Evanston, Illinois, criticizes HB 7069 and focuses on Negron rather than Corcoran.

SunshinePac was formed May 25 as a federal committee, according to Federal Election Committee records. It is headed by John Hennelly, a former Florida director for the Service Employees International Union who’s now a consultant with the liberal Chicago-based firm Democracy Partners.

Donors to SunshinePac won’t be revealed until the organization files its first FEC report in July.

“What has politician Joe Negron been up to in Tallahassee this Session? Making backroom deals and our schools are paying the price,” says one side of the mailer, which shows a picture of Negron and Corcoran but doesn’t identify the House speaker.

“Behind closed doors, Joe Negron and his friends in Tallahassee passed HB 7069 which takes away much needed funding to our public schools,” the other side of the mailer says. It urges recipients to “Call Governor Rick Scott…and tell him to VETO Negron’s Deal (HB 7069) and stand up for our students!”

Negron is Senate president through 2018. He’s been mentioned as a potential candidate for attorney general (a position he briefly sought in 2006), but said Tuesday: “I’m completely focused on being Senate president right now.”


Gov. Rick Scott vetoes more than $10 million in Palm Beach County projects

Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed more than $400 million worth of statewide projects, including more than $10 million in Palm Beach County.

To free up money for  a budget deal that boosts spending for schools and tourism and business incentives, Florida Gov. Rick Scott used his veto pen today to nix more than $10 million worth of projects in Palm Beach County.

The local vetoes are part of more than $400 million that Scott used his line-item veto authority to cut from the $83 billion budget approved by state lawmakers last month.

Click here for a complete statewide veto list.

Scott’s Palm Beach County vetoes include:

$5.3 million for Florida Atlantic University. Scott vetoed $2 million for a “drug discovery and translation research partnership” with The Scripps Research Institute, $1.2 million for an FAU “Tech Runway,” $1.1 million for a Max Planck scientific fellowship program and $1 million for the FAU Honors College.

$3 million for Lake Worth Park of Commerce improvements.

$475,000 for Royal Palm Beach Canal System rehabilitation project.

$400,000 for Riviera Beach.

$350,000 for an African American history museum at Historic Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach.

$300,000 for the Palm Beach Zoo for a safety and preparedness program.

$200,000 for Palm Beach County libraries for CreationStation digital learning labs.

$200,000 for Palm Beach State College for an Institute on Ethics.




Rick Scott, top lawmakers agree on more money for schools, tourism, businesses

Gov. Rick Scott (left), Senate President Joe Negron (top) and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, have struck a budget deal that will put more money into schools, tourist promotion and business incentives — if legislators agree during a special session in Tallahassee next week.

Scott signed an $83 billion budget for 2017-18 and used his line-item veto authority to nix $410 million worth of specific projects to pay for the new spending. The governor ordered a special session to begin Wednesday and end Friday.

The governor’s veto list is to be released later today.

Scott’s office says the deal adds $215 million for K-12 education and puts $85 million into a new “Job Growth Grant Fund” to replace a business incentive program legislators killed over Scott’s objections. The deal also puts $76 million into the Visit Florida program that lawmakers slashed when they approved the budget last month.

Scott, unhappy that his priorities were ignored in their 2017-18 budget, had dangled the possibility of vetoing the entire budget. No governor has done that since 1992.

Corcoran, who pushed for slashing the tourism and business incentive money, appeared to be on board in a statement released by the governor’s office.

“I am proud to stand with Governor Scott as we fight for continued strong job creation, giving every child a competitive and world class education, ensuring Florida competes as a tourist destination, and faithfully stewarding taxpayer dollars — goals that unify us,” Corcoran said in the statement.