MONEY retirement planning

Five Takeaways on Retirement from the Midterm Elections

With Republicans controlling Congress, expect a push to cut Social Social and Medicare benefits—and maybe new ideas to encourage savings.

Retirement policy wasn’t on the ballot in last week’s midterm elections. But the new political landscape could threaten the retirement security of middle-class households.

With Republicans in full control of Congress, expect efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. And more Republican-controlled statehouses mean more efforts to curtail state and local workers’ pension plans. One positive note: Congress and the White House could find common ground on some promising ideas to encourage retirement saving.

Here are five policy areas to watch that could affect your retirement security.

SOCIAL SECURITY

The midterm results boost the odds that Social Security cuts will be in the mix if the brinkmanship over the federal debt ceiling or budget resumes.

Social Security does need reform. Its retirement trust fund will be exhausted in 2034, when revenue from payroll taxes would cover just 77% of benefits. Meanwhile, the disability program will be able to pay full benefits only through 2016. If Congress doesn’t act, 9 million disabled people will see their benefits cut by 20%.

Republicans have advocated higher retirement ages, less generous cost-of-living increases and means-testing of benefits. Some Democrats have fought for expansion of benefits and revenue for the program but haven’t been backed by President Obama or congressional party leaders.

How deeply could benefits be slashed? If previous conservative proposals are any guide, anywhere from 15% to 20%, with young people taking the biggest hit.

MEDICARE

The GOP has pushed Medicare reform plans that would “voucherize” the program, replacing defined benefits with a set amount of cash that beneficiaries could use to shop for coverage in a Medicare exchange. That would raise premiums for seniors in traditional Medicare by 50% in 2020 over current projections, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

The ACA isn’t a retirement program, but it has helped older Americans by beefing up Medicare benefits covering older people who had trouble obtaining insurance and were too young for Medicare. This year the rate of uninsured 50- to 64-year-old Americans fell from 14% to 11%, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

The percentage would be smaller if the U.S. Supreme Court hadn’t given states an opt-out option on Medicaid—it has been expanded in only 27 states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans continue to threaten funding, and the ACA faces a new Supreme Court threat. If the court rules that tax subsidies on marketplace premiums can’t be offered on the federal exchange, exchange insurance marketplaces will be on life support in all but 13 states with their own exchanges.

PENSIONS

Republicans will control 31 governors’ offices and 30 state legislatures, the most since the 1920s. That means we can expect the attack on public sector pension benefits to accelerate.

The National Association of State Retirement Administrators and the Center for State & Local Government Excellence reviewed pension reforms by 29 states this year and found reductions in annual benefits ranged from 1.2% (Pennsylvania) to 20% (Alabama); the average across all states was 7.5%.

RETIREMENT SAVING

A grand bargain on the federal budget could limit pre-tax contributions to 401(k) accounts, an idea floated regularly in tax reform discussions. And ideas aimed at helping lower-income households save for retirement could gain ground. The Obama Administration has asked Congress to create a national automatic IRA option and is rolling out a limited version called the MyRA.

Meanwhile, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) has called for a government-sponsored 401(k)-style account for Americans who don’t have a plan at work. He would like to open up the federal Thrift Savings Plan to private-sector workers. That’s attractive because the TSP boasts low costs, a short and easy-to-understand set of investment choices and options to convert savings into an annuity stream at retirement.

Another idea I like: the “baby Roth.” The plan’s architect projects that an initial contribution of $500 to an infant’s Roth IRA, with subsequent annual contributions of $250, would grow to $131,800 at age 65, versus $35,300 for an account started at age 25.

It’s disappointing that few candidates campaigned on ideas that would help the middle class build retirement security. Democrats could have boasted about how the ACA is helping older Americans. And polls show that expanding Social Security and keeping Medicare strong are winning issues across partisan divides and demographic groups.

TIME Television

Clay Aiken’s Failed Bid for U.S. Congress Will Be an Esquire Network Docuseries

Clay Aiken
Clay Aiken, Democratic candidate for U.S. representative of North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District, gives his concession speech in Sanford, N.C. on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 after losing to Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers. Abbi O'Leary—The Fayetteville Observer/AP

After placing second in two American votes, Aiken's story will be shared

What do you do after placing second on American Idol? If you’re Katharine McPhee, you release a few albums and attempt to cross over into acting. If you’re Adam Lambert, you tour with Queen and become an LGBT activist. If you’re Clay Aiken, you run for Congress. Naturally.

Aiken lost his bid for Congress yesterday to Republican Renee Elmers in North Carolina’s majority-Republican 2nd District; he claimed 41 percent of the vote to Elmers’ 59 percent. And Esquire Network revealed last night that it had been filming behind the scenes throughout the entire race, beginning with the announcement of Aiken’s candidacy in February.

The Democrat’s story is compelling on many levels. He’s a single, gay dad and a Christian. He attempted to break into Washington as a relative outsider, notwithstanding a two-year term on the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, for which his time working as a special education teacher qualified him. And the congressional race was marked by tragedy: His runner-up in the Democratic primary, Keith Crisco, died just days after the primary following a fall in his home.

The four-hour docuseries, which is yet to be titled, is helmed by Oscar winner Simon Chinn and Emmy winner Jonathan Chinn. “We were granted incredible access during the making of this documentary, and in turn were able to capture the internal workings of an American campaign — the good, the bad and the ugly,” Simon Chinn told The Hollywood Reporter. The project will air sometime during the first quarter of 2015.

TIME politics

All of Your Female Heroes Teamed Up to Make a PSA Encouraging Women to Vote

"You're living in the past, it's a new generation"

People tend to overlook the importance of the mid-term elections, turning out in lower numbers for races that often have as much riding on them as the presidential election. But if it were up to Joan Jett, Carrie Brownstein, Sia and the dozens of other women in a new PSA, that trend would be reversed next week, and it would be reversed thanks to women.

In the PSA, women and girls of all ages — and a few male friends for good measure — lip sync to Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” shredding and head-banging for a cause. The legislative landscape, the video explains, has not been kind to women. Last year saw more laws passed to restrict reproductive rights than in the previous decade combined. The wage gap continues to yawn lazily without effective laws to reduce it. And what’s a woman to do about all of this? Get out and vote, that’s what.

The video was produced by the Department of Peace, “an art collective geared toward creating consciousness-raising content and inspiring young people toward political participation and community-oriented action.” They remind women that access to reproductive health services is geographically uneven, highly dependent upon which state you live in, so high turnout from sea to sea (and especially in between) is as important as ever.

While most of the song’s lyrics work well as a feminist anthem, at one point Jett sings, “It never gets better, anyway.” Well, perhaps it does. That’s up to voters.

TIME 2014 Election

McConnell Slams Democratic Opponent for Staying Mum on Obama Vote

Alison Lundergan Grimes won't say if she voted for the president in 2008 and 2012

In a new ad released Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasts his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes for declining to answer questions on whether or not she voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012.

The Kentucky Courier-Journal editorial board posed the question four times to Grimes during an interview Oct. 9, but she repeatedly dodged it. The Democratic candidate replied that she was a “Clinton Democrat,” that “this election isn’t about the President,” and that she respects “the sanctity of the ballot box—and I know the members of this editorial board do as well.”

Grimes’ maneuvering has been heavily criticized. The ad uses footage of NBC Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, speaking on MSNBC Friday. “I think she disqualified herself,” he said. “Can Kentuckians expect her to cast a tough vote on anything? Is she ever going to answer a tough question on anything?”

With President Obama’s approval rating hovering around 30% in Kentucky according to NBC News/Marist and CNN polls published last month, Grimes has sought to distance herself from Obama both in ads and on the trail.

Grimes, meanwhile, touted an endorsement from former Kentucky Democratic Senator Wendell Ford in a new ad. Ford worked to portray Grimes as someone who would reach across the aisle when in office:

“When I was in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans worked together,” he says. “Mitch McConnell doesn’t understand the problems, he’s just been against everything. He’s Mr. No… Alison can work with both sides.”

 

 

 

 

TIME 2014 Election

Liberal Group Blames Republicans for Ebola in New ad

"Republican cuts kill"

A liberal political group just played the Ebola card in the midterm elections.

A new ad by the Agenda Project Action Fund, a liberal outside group, opens with a line uttered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—”Washington, actually, can cut spending”—and ends with the statement, “Republican cuts kill.”

(PHOTOS: See How A Photographer Is Covering Ebola’s Deadly Spread)

The rest of the one-minute ad is peppered with clips of Republicans asking for cuts, interspersed with top officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health saying the Ebola outbreak in West Africa could have been better handled if their agencies had more funding. NIH head Francis Collins said in an interview published Sunday that an Ebola vaccine might have been developed by now if it were not for a “10-year slide in research support.”

Erica Payne, the producer of the ad and president of the Agenda Project Action Fund, blamed the Ebola crisis wholly on the Republican Party.

“I think any Republican who attempts to chalk this ad up to politics is a Republican who is too afraid to examine the results of his of her actions and the very real consequences that they have,” she said. “They have developed a governing philosophy that is so fanatically anti-investment that they literally have at their doorstop death. There is no exaggeration in this.

“I think that the blame for the situation that we’re in now with the Ebola crisis is 100% the fault of Republicans and their fanatical anti-government philosophy,” she added. “They did this.”

(PHOTOS: Inside the Ebola Crisis: The Images That Moved Them Most)

Conservatives quickly bashed the ad. Erick Erickson, the editor of the conservative website RedState, wrote that the ad “reeks of desperation.”

“It’s a defensive ad that reeks of desperation,” he wrote. “At a time when more and more Americans, including millennials, are concluding government just doesn’t work, it probably won’t be effective.”

The Agenda Project Action Fund says it will spend six figures to run the ad on TV in Kentucky—where McConnell is locked in a tight reelection race—with other potential ad-buys planned in South Dakota, Alaska and North Carolina.

TIME 2014 Election

Midterm Elections See a Surge in Ads About Energy and Environment

Projected to hit highest level ever

Political ads about energy and the environment will likely reach their highest number ever this election cycle, according to the Cook Political Report.

While these issues usually don’t rule the national polls of top midterm election priorities, there are several competitive races this cycle with energy at the forefront, especially in the Senate. There is also new outside money being spent on environmental issues, particularly from billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent a reported $26.6 million of his own money this cycle to raise the profile of climate change through his super-PAC NextGen Climate Action.

“We’ve already seen more spots in U.S. Senate general elections alone (87,000 as of September 12) than we saw by this point in both Senate and House races in 2008 (56,000),” writes Elizabeth Wilner, a Senior Vice President of Kantar Media Ad Intelligence and contributing editor of the Cook Political Report. “If you add in 2014 House spots, we’ve nearly doubled the 2008 number (102,000). And with overall trends in advertising being what they are, with spot counts increasing over time, logic points to 2014 being the biggest cycle for energy/environment-related advertising, ever.”

Many of the “toss-up” Senate races this year have candidates bashing each other over energy industries that are economically or culturally important to the state. The prospect of the Keystone XL pipeline has ignited races from Michigan down to Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is trying to prove how her chairmanship on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will help the state increase its offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has campaigned on his commitment to fight the “War on Coal” while his Democratic rival, Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes, hit the airwaves to put distance between herself and President Barack Obama on the issue. In Colorado, the support for the green energy industry has thrust Republican Rep. Cory Gardner’s and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s campaigns to cut ads with their candidates in front of wind turbines. And in Alaska, Democratic Sen. Mark Beigch has aired an ad of him driving a snowmobile over the ice of the Arctic Ocean to tout his efforts to expand drilling there. In a response ad for Republican opponent Dan Sullivan—a former commissioner of the Alaska’s Department of Natural Resourcesan X Games medalist criticized Begich’s “lame tricks,” driving skills and voting record.

Some energy industries appear to have a have a greater hold than others on donors’ wallets. While Democrats and Republicans are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to figure out who is more pro-coal in Rep. Nick Rahall’s southern West Virginia district, NextGen Climate Action has yet to receive much support, receiving four donations of $250, $500, $300 and $2,500 in August, according to Bloomberg.

TIME 2014 Election

Legal Threats Continue to Fly in New Hampshire Senate Race

New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown faces new ethics complaint over his personal financal disclosure form

Legal complaints have become the new press release in New Hampshire this week, as Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown and his opponents turned to official threats to score political points.

It started Sunday, when New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown threatened to sue Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig after a outside group he runs called him a “lobbyist” in a campaign mailer, despite the fact that Brown has never registered as a lobbyist. “If you fail to immediately cease the mailer in question, we are leaving all our legal options on the table,” wrote Colin Reed, the campaign manager of New Hampshire for Scott Brown.

Then on Friday, a liberal group, the American Democracy Legal Fund, took its own shot, filing papers with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics requesting an investigation into whether Brown violated federal law by failing to identify certain clients from his work at a law firm in his personal finance disclosure form. The request was signed by Brad Woodhouse, a former spokesman for the Democratic Party, who also runs American Bridge, an opposition research group working to defeat Republican candidates this fall. Brown is down around five points in a tight race against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), according to an aggregation of polling data conducted by Real Clear Politics.

Brown campaign’s blasted the American Democracy Legal Fund’s ethics complaint.

“This is a partisan Democratic group whose purpose is to file frivolous complaints against Republican candidates,” said Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton. “Their claims have absolutely no merit.”

Neither threat is likely to result in much legal action, but both moves are meant to make headlines. Indeed Brown has seen—and used—similar tactics before. In Brown’s 2012 Massachusetts reelection campaign against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Warren and Brown traded barbs demanding that the other reveal his or her legal clients. The American Democracy Legal Fund, meanwhile, has been busy over the last several months, filing other ethics complaints against Republican Senate candidates in Louisiana and North Carolina, which also helped to generate negative news coverage.

The fund’s newest claim, that Brown was required to disclose more about his clients when he worked at the law firm Nixon Peabody, is unlikely to lead to sanctions against Brown, says Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. There is an exemption under the Ethics in Government Act (EGA) that protects information under attorney-client privilege. “There are two elements here,” says Ornstein. “Senate ethics rules, which it appears do require a listing of clients and services, and the Ethics Act, which requires sources of income but so far as I can tell does not specify law firm clients.”

“The problem with the former is that the Ethics Committee has no real power over former members,” he adds. “It could, in theory, send a letter chastising Brown, but that is all. It is more likely that he has a moral obligation under Senate rules to disclose than a legal obligation under the EGA.”

Lessig has defended his mailer by saying that the legal definition of “lobbyist” under Senate rules was not the one he referenced in the mailer. “According to the Senate, Scott Brown isn’t a ‘lobbyist,'” Lessig wrote in a blog post after receiving the legal threat from Brown’s campaign. “But I submit to anyone else in the world, a former Senator joining a ‘law and lobbying firm’ to help with Wall St’s ‘business and governmental affairs’ is to make him a lobbyist.”

TIME 2014 elections

Scott Brown Threatens Lawsuit Over Being Called a ‘Washington Lobbyist’

Former Republican U.S. Sen. of Mass. Scott Brown waits before a televised debate on Sept. 4, 2014 at WMUR in Manchester, N.H.
Former Republican U.S. Sen. of Mass. Scott Brown waits before a televised debate on Sept. 4, 2014 at WMUR in Manchester, N.H. Jim Cole—AP

At issue is the federal government’s definition of the word “lobbyist”. The Republican Senate candidate for New Hampshire currently trails his opponent by 6 points

The campaign for New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown threatened to sue Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig Sunday over a mailer calling Brown a “former Washington lobbyist.” Lessig’s Super PAC to end Super PACs, Mayday PAC, wrote the mailer in support of one of Brown’s Republican rivals, former state Sen. Jim Rubens, and to decry special interests’ influence in Washington.

“Scott Brown is not nor has he ever been a lobbyist,” wrote Colin Reed, Brown’s campaign manager, in a blistering letter to Lessig. “Ever… If you fail to immediately cease the mailer in question, we are leaving all our legal options on the table.”

Reed also said that Lessig’s actions violated Harvard’s honor code.

At issue is the federal government’s definition of the word “lobbyist” versus the popular one, i.e. “one who influences government official’s decisions.” The federal government considers only individuals who lobby 20 percent or more of his or her professional time serving a client as a “lobbyist.” In 2013, Nixon Peabody law firm hired Brown to advise in business and governmental affairs matters, focusing on the financial services and commercial real estate industries.

Lessig responded to the letter quoting the words of Clint Eastwood’s character “Dirty Harry” Callahan — “Go ahead; Make my day” — and offered to openly debate whether Brown was a “lobbyist.” Lessig also asked Brown if it was better to call Brown a former Massachusetts senator “who sold his influence to a DC lobbying firm.” Former Republican New Hampshire senator Gordon Humphrey, who cut an ad for Rubens on behalf of Mayday, released a statement calling Brown a former “lobbyist.”

Brown has narrowed the gap between himself and the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, from 10 to 6 percentage points, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News/ YouGov survey.

TIME 2014 Midterm Election

The ‘Super PAC to End All Super PACs’ Is Backing These Candidates

The 18th Annual Webby Awards - Inside
Professor Lawrence Lessig poses backstage at the 18th Annual Webby Awards on May 19, 2014 in New York City. Theo Wargo—2014 Getty Images

And gives Congress an ultimatum before revealing its entire slate

The Mayday Super PAC, a crowdfunded Political Action Committee designed to support pro-campaign finance reform politicians, announced two of the candidates it will support in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections.

The PAC is supporting State Senator Jim Reubens in the New Hampshire Republican Senate primary. It’s also supporting Democrat Staci Appel in the race to represent Iowa’s third congressional district.

Reubens has made “fundamental reform to the way campaigns are funded” a central platform in his campaign, the group said. In that race, the group is also opposing former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who it says opposes several key campaign finance reform measures and supports the lightning rod Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Appel, meanwhile, is also a dedicated campaign finance reformer.

Mayday PAC has said it will support a total of five candidates in this year’s midterms. However, it has left three of the five candidates it will ultimately support unannounced as a “warning shot,” as the group calls it, to other politicians.

“If a candidate for Congress wants to be inoculated from being on our target list,” the group said in a press release Monday, “there is an easy way to do so: get on the right side of reform.”

Mayday PAC says candidates have until 5 p.m. eastern time on August 5 to meet the group’s requirements or else risk being named a target. Whether any candidates will switch their positions on campaign finance reform as a result of the groups’ ultimatum remains to be seen.

The “Super PAC to end all Super PACs” was launched by the academic and campaign finance reform activist Lawrence Lessig. The group has raised $7.7 million to spend influencing key races this year, much of it Kickstarter-style through small donations.

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