“I’ve got seniors in my district who are barely making it by now. Food costs are going up, utility costs are going up, rent is going up …They need their benefits to go up.” – U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford
By Mark Waite
Retirees eating at the Pahrump Senior Center often don’t pay a lot of attention to politicians making speeches over lunch time — chatting with friends, playing cards and enjoying a meal are much more fun.
But U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., had their attention Thursday when he warned about possible cuts from sequestration that could take effect March 1, impacting the very meal they were putting in their stomachs.
Sequestration is the automatic budget cuts that will take effect unless Congress passes a budget plan.
“You will not see a cut in your Social Security benefit under sequestration and you will not see a cut to your benefits under Medicare. So I want to get that up front. What you will see impacts to is the quality of services that are available to you under Social Security and Medicare,” Horsford said.
Anyone who has a disability claim pending or retirement claim may have to wait longer since there won’t be as much staff available, he said, they may be on furlough or the office may be closed.
“The biggest impacts which could affect the quality of your services under Medicare is that the payments to doctors may be slowed down. It already has been slowed, so you may hear from your doctor, well I haven’t been paid by Medicare and that’s because the processing of those payments aren’t happening as quickly as they should and under the sequestration, the across-the-board cuts, there will be greater cuts,” Horsford said.
He said there will be a $90 million cut to medical payments under Medicare to doctors in Nevada if sequestration takes effect.
“I was talking to a group of doctors yesterday, they told me if they impose these cuts I’m going to have to lay off a couple nurses. I’m going to have to lay off a physician and in a rural community like Pahrump we know how hard that is,” Horsford said.
The first-term congressman said the chief executive officer of Nevada Health Centers told him if sequestration went through he would have to cut his budget by $700,000. Nevada Health Centers has 14 clinics throughout Nevada, including in Amargosa Valley and Beatty.
“These should not go through. This Congress should be in session,” Horsford said.
Horsford said he voted not to adjourn last week, but the Republicans, who form the majority in the House of Representatives, decide the schedule. The automatic budget cuts were something the past Congress enacted as the worst possible scenario that would’ve forced politicians to work together and find an alternative, he said.
Horsford said he voted for the no budget, no pay bill championed by U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. “Congress needs to do its job,” he said.
Horsford said 4 million meals served under the Meals on Wheels program could be cut under sequestration. A report from the Pahrump Senior Center showed there were 2,431 meals served at the senior center in January, and 3,917 home-delivered meals through the Meals on Wheels program. Both rely on federal grants.
There also would be cuts to energy assistance for seniors and low income individuals, he said. Title I education funds would be cut 10 percent, Horsford said. The Head Start program would also be cut.
“So in effect 10,000 jobs in Nevada could potentially be lost under sequestration unless we find an alternative,” Horsford said, “out of those 10,000, 1,467 would come from the civilian side at Nellis and Creech Air Force bases . So at a time when we are just starting to see our economy come around — and in Nevada we still have a long way to go — the last thing we need to see is 10,000 more people out of work. So these are why these impacts are negative and why we need to come up with an alternative,” Horsford said.
The congressman advocated a balanced approach to cut $1.5 trillion from the deficit, like what President Obama outlined in his State of the Union speech last week.
“We got to close some corporate loopholes. We got to get some people at the higher income levels, some millionaires, to pay a little bit more so we can preserve programs like Medicare and Social Security so that we can preserve the nutrition program like the one you received today,” Horsford said.
Higher income recipients of Social Security may have to pay higher taxes, he said.
Strategic spending reductions need to be enacted, but they shouldn’t affect the poor and seniors, he said.
“It’s not the senior who gets the $1,000 check under Social Security that’s our problem with the federal budget, but there are some people in Washington who say unless you fix Social Security we’re never going to get our budget under control,” Horsford said.
In reality, he said Social Security and Medicare are in a separate trust fund, so fixing Social Security wouldn’t solve the federal budget problem.
Horsford was asked about plans by President Obama to consider slowing annual increases in Social Security benefits, a proposal he doesn’t support.
“I’ve got seniors in my district who are barely making it by now. Food costs are going up, utility costs are going up, rent is going up, they need their benefits to go up,” Horsford said.
The freshman congressman was appointed to three committees he said will help him serve his district: the House Natural Resource Committee, which oversees public lands issues; the Homeland Security Committee, which will be dealing with immigration; and the House Oversight Committee which oversees implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Social Security and Medicare.
Republicans gathered for the Lincoln Day dinner last Friday night were preoccupied with concerns over gun rights. Horsford said surveys have shown over two-thirds of Americans support comprehensive background checks of people wanting to buy guns. The government also needs to increase its capacity to meet mental health needs of individuals to avoid events like the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he said.
Otherwise, Horsford said, “I’ve got rural communities like Pahrump that have a tradition of support of the Second Amendment. That’s very important for us to preserve and protect and support.”
Residents in some rural areas could be many miles from the nearest law enforcement, he said.
As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, Horsford said their main focus is border security and ensuring the U.S. has safe and effective border control for legal immigration. Some Republicans want to ensure borders are secure before voting on immigration reform. Horsford is confident there will be a bipartisan immigration reform agreement, but he wants to see the details. His Homeland Security Committee will review the bill after the House Judiciary Committee.
“Only about 3 percent of the materials brought into our ports are properly inspected. So we have a very comprehensive role to play in strengthening and continuing to make progress on border security,” Horsford said.
Horsford said he has felt a positive attitude among the new class of freshmen after being sworn in Jan. 3.
“There’s over 80 of us, along with the majority of the new members that got re-elected. There’s a sense that they’ve heard the message from the American people that it’s time to work together to move our country forward. We need to work across party lines to do that, to get people working, to improve our economy, to preserve Medicare and Social Security and to also make the right investments for our kids and our future,” he said.