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By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging
Twenty-six years after the House Democratic Leadership’s
belt-tightening efforts to save $1.5 million resulted in the termination of the
House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline
reintroduces legislation to reestablish the House Aging panel, active from 1974
until 1993. Initially the House panel had 35 members but would later grow to 65
According to Cicilline, the House can readily authorize the
establishment of a temporary ad hoc select committee by just approving a simple
resolution that contains language establishing the committee – describing the
purpose, defining members and detailing other issues that need to be addressed.
Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are
authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.
At press time, for the third time, Cicilline’s resolution to
re-establish the House Aging Committee has been introduced and referred to the
House Committee on Rules for mark up and if passed will be considered by the
The Nuts and Bolts
The House Resolution (just over 245 words) reestablishes a
Permanent House Select Committee on Aging, noting that the panel shall not have
legislative jurisdiction, but it’s authorized to conduct a continuing
comprehensive study and review of the aging issues, such as income maintenance,
poverty, housing, health (including medical research), welfare, employment,
education, recreation, and long-term care.
Cicilline’s House Resolution would have authorized the House
Aging Committee to study the use of all practicable means and methods of
encouraging the development of public and private programs and policies which
will assist seniors in taking a full part in national life and which will
encourage the utilization of the knowledge, skills, special aptitudes, and
abilities of seniors to contribute to a better quality of life for all
Finally, the House Resolution would also allow the House
Aging Committee to develop policies that would encourage the coordination of
both governmental and private programs designed to deal with problems of aging
and to review any recommendations made by the President or by the White House
Conference on aging in relation to programs or policies affecting seniors.’
Initial Resolution Blocked by the House GOP
On March 1, 2016, Cicilline had introduced House Resolution
758 during the 114th Congress (2015-2016) to reestablish the House Aging
Committee. It attracted Rhode Island Congressman James R. Langevin (D-RI) and
27 other cosigners (no Republicans) out of 435 lawmakers. Seniors Task Force
Co-Chairs, U.S. Congress Women Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
also signed onto supporting this resolution.
However, it was extremely obvious to Cicilline and the
Democratic cosigners that it was important to reestablish the House Aging
Committee. Correspondence penned by the Rhode Island Congressman urged House
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the House Republican leadership to support House
Resolution 758. But, ultimately no action was taken because Ryan had blocked
the proposal from being considered.
At that time, Cicilline remembers that many of his
Democratic House colleagues didn’t think House Resolution 758 would gain much
legislative traction with a Republican-controlled House. However, things are
different today with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California)
controlling the legislative agenda in the chamber.
During the 115th Congress (2017-2018), Cicilline continued
his efforts to bring the House Select Committee on Aging back to life. On March
01, 2017, he threw House Resolution 160 into the legislative hopper.
Twenty-Four Democratic lawmakers became cosponsors and, but no Republicans came
on board. House Speaker Ryan again derailed the Rhode Island Congressman’s
attempts to see his proposal passed.
Third Times the Charm
Since a Republican-controlled Congress successfully blocked
Cicilline’s simple resolution from reaching the floor for a vote in 2017, the
Democratic lawmaker has reintroduced his resolution in the current Congress
with the Democrats controlling the chamber’s legislative agenda.
Cicilline is working to get support from both Democratic and
Republican lawmakers and has approached the House leadership for support. He
plans to again reach out to aging advocacy groups for support, including the
Leadership Council on Aging Organizations, consisting of some 70 national
organizations, whose leadership includes the AARP, the National Council on
Aging, the Alliance for Retired Americans, and the National Committee to
Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
“Our nation’s seniors deserve dedicated attention by
lawmakers to consider the legislative priorities that affect them, including
Social Security and Medicare, the rising cost of prescription drugs, poverty,
housing issues, long-term care, and other important issues,” said Cicilline in
a statement announcing the reintroduction of his House resolution to bring back
the House Aging Committee. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation today on
behalf of seniors in Rhode Island and all across America,” says the Rhode
Island Congressman who serves on the House Democratic leadership team as
Chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
According to Cicilline, for nearly two decades, the U.S.
House Permanent Select Committee on Aging was tasked with “advising Congress
and the American people on how to meet the challenge of growing old in
America.” The Select Committee did not have legislative authority, but
conducted investigations, held hearings, and issued reports to inform Congress on
issues related to aging.
“The re-establishment of the Permanent Select Committee will
emphasize Congress’s commitment to current and future seniors. It will also
help ensure older Americans can live their lives with dignity and economic
security,” says Cicilline.
Looking Back in Time
In 1973, the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging was
authorized by a vote of 323 to 84. While lacking legislative authority to
introduce legislation (although its members often did in their standing
committees), the House Aging panel would begin to put the spotlight on
specific-aging issues, by broadly examining federal policies and trends. Its
review of legislative issues was not limited by narrow jurisdictional
boundaries set for the House standing committees.
In 1993, Congressional belt-tightening to match President
Clinton’s White House staff cuts and efforts to streamline its operations would
seal the fate of the House Aging Committee. House Democratic leadership cut
$1.5 million in funding to the House Aging Committee forcing it to close its
doors (during the 103rd Congress) because they considered it to be wasteful
spending because the chamber already had 12 standing committee with
jurisdiction over aging issues.
Even the intense lobbying efforts of a coalition of
Washington, DC-based aging advocacy groups including AARP, National Council on
Aging, National Council of Senior Citizens, and Older Woman’s League could not
save the House Aging Committee. These groups warned that staff of the 12
standing committees did not have time to broadly examine aging issues as the
select committee did.
Aging groups rallying in the support of maintaining funding
for the House Aging Committee clearly knew its value and impact. In a March 3
1993 article published in the St. Petersburg Times, reporter Rebecca H.
Patterson reported that Staff Director Brian Lutz, of the Committee’s
Subcommittee on Retirement Income and Employment, stated that “during its 18
years of existence the House Aging Committee had been responsible for about 1,000
hearings and reports.”
As an advocate for the nation’s seniors, the House panel
prodded Congress to act in abolishing forced retirement, investigating nursing
home abuses, monitoring breast screening for older woman, improving elderly
housing and bringing attention to elder abuse by publishing a number reports,
including Elder Abuse: An Examination of a Hidden Problem and Elder Abuse: A
National Disgrace, and Elder Abuse: A Decade of Shame and Inaction. The
Committee’s work would also lead to increased home care benefits for the aging
and establishing research and care centers for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Aging Advocates Give Thumbs Up
“The Senate has had the wisdom to keep its Special Committee
on Aging in business which has meant a laser-like attention on major issues
affecting seniors including elder abuse, especially scams and other forms of
financial exploitation,” says Bill Benson, former staff director of the
Committee’s Subcommittee on Housing and Consumer Interests. The House has been
without a similar body now for decades, he notes.
Benson adds, “With ten thousand Americans turning 65 each
day we are witnessing the greatest demographic change in human history. It is
unconscionable to not have a legislative body in the House of Representatives
focused on the implications of the aging of America.”
Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to
Preserve Social Security and Medicare, served as staff director for the Senate
Special Committee on Aging from 1987 to 1989. He agrees that it’s time once
again for the House to have its own committee dedicated to older Americans’
With the graying of America, it is more important now than
ever that seniors’ interests are represented as prominently as possible on
Capitol Hill, says Richtman. “There is so much at stake for older Americans
today, including the future of Social Security and Medicare, potential cuts to
Medicaid, and the myriad federal programs that lower income seniors rely upon
for everything from food to home heating assistance. We fully support Rep.
Cicilline’s efforts to re-establish the House Permanent Select Committee on
Aging,” he states.
“We enter 2020 in the midst of the predicted aging of
America including the fact that all boomers are now over age 55, says Robert
Blancato, president of Matz, Blancato and Associates, who was the longest
serving staff person on the original House Aging Committee, from 1978 to 1993.
“We need the specific focus that only a select committee can
offer to the myriad of issues related to aging in America,” adds Blancato,
noting that it would be a coveted Committee to be named to from both a policy
and political perspective.
Four years after the death of Congressman Claude Pepper,
(D-Florida) in 1989, the former Chairman of the House Select Committee on
Aging, serving as its chair for six years, would have turned in his grave with
the House eliminating his beloved select committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
might honor the late Congressman who was the nation’s most visible spokesperson
for seniors, by bringing the House Select Committee on Aging back this
Published in the Woonsocket Call on February 2, 2020
Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care
and medical issues. To purchase “Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging
Boldly,” a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.