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‘Fiscal cliff’ triggering fear, anxiety, ire among seniors

Paul Kleyman | 11/20/2012, 5:08 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO—Since last week’s win by President Barack Obama, the issues of aging and retirement have loomed just beneath the headlines.

Women, youth and a record Latino vote were credited with the president’s victory in key swing states. But it’s Americans over the age of 50, especially those from immigrant and minority communities, who could have the most to gain — and lose.

That’s because as the budget crisis looms, these seniors could be the first and hardest hit.

The so-called “fiscal cliff” that the White House and Congress are now racing toward is the combination of across-the-board federal budget cuts and tax increases — over $600 billion worth — that will kick in on Jan. 2.

The automatic government cuts that will swing — unless the President and Congress can hone a more surgical approach to needed budget cuts and tax increases — would whack at everything from military spending to meals on wheels for homebound seniors. (The automatic cuts, though, would not touch Social Security or most of Medicare.)

Seniors’ advocates worry about “grand bargain”

Advocates for elders, though, worry that political agendas in Washington will cut a fiscal “grand bargain” that might trade off modest revenue increases with cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits that vulnerable Americans need to get by in hard times.

Immediately following the election, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, signaled that any deal generating new government revenue — not, mind you, “new taxes,” but maybe some closed tax loopholes — must include reforms to entitlement programs. Despite Obama’s win and Democratic gains in the Senate, Boehner is overseeing a House that remains under Republican control, with a strong Tea Party-supported contingent.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., stated the day after the election, “We are not going to mess with Social Security,” in cutting a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal. Other prominent Democrats, though, reiterated recommendations to place everything on the negotiating table, including entitlements.

Larry Polivka, executive director of the Claude Pepper Center at Florida State University, stressed, “Despite the immediate feel-good results of the election, Democrats could hand over the huge advantage they have on Social Security and Medicare, if they agree to cost reductions as part of a grand bargain. For Democrats, those programs are the family jewels.”

Record minority vote

A record number of Latino voters gave 71 percent of their votes to President Obama on Nov. 6 — including a record 47 percent of Florida’s Cuban vote. An even higher percentage of Asian-American voters (74 percent) cast votes for Obama.

But some advocates for immigrant and minority families worry that Democratic leaders could continue to embrace the idea of making bipartisan history with Republicans by lowering the national debt through tax increases and entitlement cuts.

“Latinos want a balanced budget, but they want government to be fiscally responsible, not cut programs that are so important to their families,” said Jeff Cruz, executive director of Latinos for a Secure Retirement (LSR), a coalition of 10 national Latino organizations. “They shouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of the poor.”