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Clay calls for elderly to press Congress to protect Social Security, Medicare

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 12, 2011 - U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, called on area recipients of Social Security and Medicare to make clear to members of Congress that workers paid into the programs for years and deserve the benefits they seek when they retire.

"We are not going to balance the budget on the backs of seniors!'' Clay declared, igniting applause from several hundred retirees -- many of them from the defense industry -- gathered at a town hall in Hazelwood sponsored by the Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans. "They did not cause the imbalance in this budget, and they should not have to pay for it."

Clay's message resonated with crowd, with one man standing up to assert that "Republicans try every way they can to disembowel these programs."

Without Social Security, said Clay, about half of Missouri elderly would be living in poverty. With the program, only about 6 percent of Missouri elderly fall into that category.

As for Medicare: "House Republicans voted to end Medicare and replace it with a voucher system where seniors would be forced to go out and buy private insurance at a much highter cost, and with greatly reduced benefits," he continued. "Democrats firmly believe that this government should keep its promises to today's seniors and to tomorrow's retirees as well."

Clay pointed out that health care changes passed by Congress is 2010 have saved elderly Medicare recipients $461 million by covering more prescription drugs and expanding free services, such as annual exams.

In an interview before his speech, Clay said it was clear that elderly voters locally and elswhere are upset with the threats to their retirement that they were seeing in Washington. He warned that Democrats should be careful about appearing to share GOP penchants' for cutting Medicare and Social Security.

"Seniors are a powerful force in American politics,'' Clay said. If Democrats in Congress go along with major cuts in their programs, "that makes us part of the conspiracy."

Clay was speaking before House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced who she had selected as her three choices for the 12-member "Super Committee'' that is decide how to cut $1.5 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. If the group fails to reach a compromise, automatic cuts go into effect in all federal programs -- including defense.

Clay acknowledged to the crowd that he disliked the "Super Committee'' approach. "It usurps Congress," he said, But he told the audience that if they are vocal with their views, they could help ensure that the cuts were fair, and coupled with revenue increases.

After the selections were announced, Clay issued a statement lauding the choices of Reps. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Xavier Becerra of Florida. "They represent the core values and broad constituencies that make up the House Democratic Caucus," the congressman said. "I have no doubt that they will advocate for a balanced and responsible deficit reduction package that cuts spending, increases revenue, and puts everything on the table in an honest and transparent way...">

Clay said he is spending this recess mingling with constituents and not, he added pointedly, "going on some exotic vacation."

Clay also appears to be preparing for next year's re-election bid in a reconfigured 1st District that includes 80 percent of his old district -- with the rest coming from the current turf of a fellow Democrat, U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan.

Carnahan, also of St. Louis, saw his 3rd District dismembered by the General Assembly this spring in redistricting, as a result of Missouri losing one of its current nine congressional seats.

Carnahan has yet to say if he is challenging Clay, or running in the neighboring 2nd District, where there will be no incumbent. The 2nd District leans Republican, but some Democrats want Carnahan to seek that post, rather than take on Clay.

Clay would say only that he will definitely support Carnahan if he runs in the 2nd.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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