En español | The deficit deal passed by Congress and signed by President Obama is a mixed bag for older Americans, with Social Security and Medicaid protected from cuts at least for now but many other federal programs likely to be trimmed.
Congress went about the mechanics of pulling the nation back from the brink of default. Senators approved the package Tuesday, 74 to 26, just hours before the nation exhausted its borrowing authority. On Monday, with Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords making a dramatic appearance, the House passed the deficit compromise, 269 to 161.
The quickest impact on seniors will be the Social Security checks that arrive later this week. The president had warned that without an increase in the debt ceiling, he couldn't guarantee that the government would have enough borrowing authority to send out checks on Aug. 3.
Now those checks should go out after the measure becomes law. And one of the biggest impacts on the Social Security system — a proposal to make future cost-of-living increases smaller — is off limits in the short run.
The debt deal reached Sunday between Obama and congressional leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would raise the debt ceiling in exchange for more than $2 trillion in spending cuts. The total is much smaller than the $4 trillion in cuts Obama and congressional leaders had first tried to come up with.
"It's inadequate. There's not a lot of dispute about that," says J.D. Foster, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "We have a huge fiscal problem and this doesn't address it that much."
The first installment of nearly $1 trillion in cuts exempts Social Security and Medicare.
Where are the cuts?
But the money will have to come from somewhere. And David Certner, AARP legislative policy director, says that other programs dear to seniors could be affected — like those for nutrition, caregiving and senior job placement. Many of those programs — such as those for elderly housing and home heating assistance — already have waiting lists. Demand continues to rise as the senior population increases and the economy leaves more people in need of federal aid. After the spending cuts, even less money will be available.
"With these kinds of big, deep cuts, it will probably affect all these programs," Certner says. "We don't know exactly how these cuts will be apportioned."