Scholten, Sanders stump for Social Security
Panel members share how government programs helped them when they needed it most
Jerry McGowan, now retired and living in Rockwell City, had a pretty good job once. He worked for 40 years in the gas industry in Texas, then opened a car lot in Iowa after he retired from that career.
When he had major heart surgery just a few years ago, McGowan said he needed the Medicare and Social Security, which he had been paying for all his life in taxes.
“Without Social Security I would not have made it,” McGowan said.
McGowan appeared on a panel on stage with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and candidate for U.S. House J.D. Scholten during a Social Security Town Hall meeting Sunday morning.
Sanders came to Iowa supporting Scholten in his race against incumbent Rep. Steve King, because Sanders said new leadership is needed in Washington in order to save programs that help older Americans.
“I had heart surgery two years ago,” McGowan said, holding back emotion, to an audience of perhaps 170 at Iowa Central Community College’s bioscience auditorium. “Between the 80 percent that Social Security paid, and the supplement, it was paid off.
“I made a real good salary for 40 years, but I had to have it,” he said. “If you don’t have it, you’re in trouble.”
Social Security and Medicare are “the two most successful domestic programs in the history of the United States of America,” according to Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, once known as the singer for Sha Na Na and host of the Sha Na Na TV show, and now part of the Social Security Works PAC.
“And you know what, Iowa’s fourth district, we need to keep them that way,” Bauman said. “You know I love the music of the ’50s and the early ’60s, but that does not mean I want to return to the ’50s and the early ’60s. That was the time before Medicare. And in the time before Medicare, over 35 percent of American seniors had incomes below the poverty line.
“And I certainly do not want to return to the time before Social Security was passed in 1935, when more than 1 out of every 2 American seniors had incomes below the poverty line.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said “entitlement spending,” not the Republican tax plan, is responsible for the increasing deficits that are now on track to top $1 trillion, according to the Associated Press.
“Just this week (McConnell) laid out their game plan,” Scholten said on Sunday. “This tax bill added $1.9 trillion to the deficit, and they’re going after Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid unless we change who’s going to Congress.”
Bauman and Sanders said instead of reducing Medicare benefits, these should be expanded. Sanders said a recent bill that’s been proposed would expand Medicare so it covers dental care and hearing aids.
That certainly sounds good to Claudia Koch, Fort Dodge, another on the four-member panel.
“My husband says I have poor hearing. I think it’s selective,” Koch said. “I’ve thought about going to get hearing aids to see if that would help, and then I looked at the price tag. And I know that comes out of my pocket.
“Vision is not included. I have macular degeneration, so that may be my big expense through life.”
Joe Condon, of Barnum, spoke about the rising cost of medication, another topic Sanders had touched.
When Condon started taking a prescription for his diabetes, he said, he bought one month at a time and it cost $22.63.
“Since it worked good, we went to the three months, and when I went to pay for that, my copay was $256, which equates to $86 (a month),” he said. “I went back to the monthly, and it was $60 until just two days ago, I refilled it again and it went to $173.17 for one month. It’s gone up three times in less than a year.”
Sanders said some breast cancer medications in Canada are one-tenth the cost of buying them here.
“Last year the five largest drug companies made $50 billion in profit. And yet in Vermont we have senior citizens who cut their pills in half because they can’t afford the medicine they need,” said Sanders. “One out of five Americans today cannot afford the prescription drugs that they need. Can you imagine that?
“People go to the doctor when they’re sick; the doctor writes out a prescription; one out of five can’t afford it. What happens to them? They end up in the emergency room, they end up in the hospital, or maybe they die.”
Sanders said he and Scholten wanted to hold this event because issues affecting seniors “very rarely get public discussion.”
But Scholten said Social Security, Medicare, and health in general come up all the time as he travels across the 39 counties of Iowa’s District 4 in his RV.
“In these town halls, it’s easy to talk about Steve King, but we don’t. We mostly talk about issues. I talk about how we need a health care system that works for all of us,” Scholten said. “We talk about an economy that works for all of us, and we talk about a government that works for us.”
Bauman talked a bit about Steve King. He held up a scorecard from the Alliance for Senior Citizens, which he said tracks votes which help seniors.
King has a lifetime score of just 4 out of 100, he said.
“That means 96 percent of the time Steve King has voted wrong on senior issues,” Bauman said.
Polls from numerous sources still show King as the likely winner, but Scholten isn’t deterred.
“There hasn’t been a poll in over a month, and there’s been a lot that has happened since then,” Scholten said. “Our momentum is gaining every day.
“My gut instinct, what I’ve been seeing at town halls, everything I see is that it’s going to come down to razor-thin margins. And I think we all know from 2016 that you can’t trust all polls. Just keep paying attention.
“We need everybody to vote.”