Sign up to receive email updates
Medicare – A Sacred Contract
Seniors and workers deserve the benefits they are owed after a lifetime of paying into Social Security and Medicare. In balancing the budget, we must protect the services and guaranteed benefits that West Virginians rely upon to make ends meet, especially for those on fixed incomes.
I have consistently fought against proposals that would privatize the Social Security and Medicare programs, most recently, voting against the so-called Ryan budget, put forward by the House Budget Committee Chairman and Republican Vice Presidential Candidate, Paul Ryan.
He is a leader of the Republican pack that has set its sights on changing Medicare into a “premium support” program, where seniors would be given a voucher to purchase health insurance in lieu of relying upon traditional Medicare. The rub for seniors – and, there is always a rub when Republicans in Washington set their sights on Medicare – is that the voucher would gradually lose its value over time as medical costs increase, so that seniors would have to cover more of the costs of their health care, approximately $6,400 per year, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Mr. Ryan’s proposal hardly “fixes” the Medicare problem. He proposes to cut guaranteed benefit payments and shift more of the cost burden to seniors, letting them fend for themselves. That’s both impractical and cruel.
One in four West Virginians receive Social Security benefits; one in five receive Medicare and Medicaid benefits. Many seniors are on fixed incomes and struggling to absorb higher food and energy prices, rising health premiums and prescription costs; their bank savings earning near-zero interest. We must ensure some measure of security and dignity for workers in their old age.
Reforms are necessary to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security and Medicare, but those programs have their own separate sets of challenges, and any savings from those programs should be used to ensure their long-term solvency, and not to offset spending increases and tax cuts in other parts of the budget, as the Ryan plan proposes to do.
In previous Congresses, I have supported legislation to improve and strengthen the delivery of health care services while promoting affordable, quality care. I also have pressed to clamp down on Medicare fraud. These improper payments total an estimated $48 billion in 2010, which increases the deficit and diverts resources away from seniors’ care. New efforts to combat Medicare fraud and abuse, as well as to reduce costs in the delivery of care, have already resulted in billions of dollars in savings, extending the solvency of Medicare well into the next decade.
Mr. Ryan talks about making difficult decisions, but then he diverts taxpayer contributions away from Medicare and increases debt and borrowing costs in order to enact more tax cuts -- $5 trillion over ten years. The national debt under his budget proposal soars to nearly $22 trillion in the next ten years. It does not bring the budget into balance for decades. Republican Presidents like Eisenhower and Nixon and even Reagan would think it absurd to borrow so heavily to finance tax breaks.
The Ryan budgets that have passed the House – ending traditional guaranteed benefits under Medicare; slashing domestic investments in education, health care, transportation and water infrastructure; extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans – proved so divisive, so partisan, so controversial, so ridiculous that they engendered bipartisan opposition in the House (and in the West Virginia Congressional Delegation) and were rejected by the Senate.
Ultimately, when it comes time for the Congress to complete action on its annual bills, the Ryan budget is discarded as politically and substantively impractical. In other words, Mr. Ryan writes a lot partisan bills that do not get enacted into law. That’s hardly the kind of leadership we need in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s 3rd District
For more information contact: Diane Luensmann (202) 225-3452