Democrats gird for ‘war’ over Medi­care

Point to Trump’s vow to pre­serve pro­grams for se­niors

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Con­gres­sional Democrats on Wed­nes­day seized on Medi­care as a win­ning is­sue af­ter a bruis­ing 2016 elec­tion, say­ing any GOP push to over­haul the pro­gram is doomed and would flout Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign vow to lay off govern­ment pro­grams for se­niors.

“We will win this war,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the in­com­ing leader of Se­nate Democrats, who de­clared Medi­care a red-line is­sue where they will not cede any ground to con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans look­ing to find sav­ings in the pro­gram.

They say they’re ex­pect­ing such an at­tempt by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who as Bud­get Com­mit­tee chair­man wrote up plans to re­place Medi­care’s open-ended en­ti­tle­ment with a “pre­mi­um­sup­port” model.

“I haven’t even dis­cussed this with Don­ald Trump yet,” he re­cently told CBS’s 60 Min­utes. “But it is an is­sue that we have to tackle.”

Medi­care is an ex­tremely pop­u­lar pro­gram that cov­ers about 55 mil­lion Amer­i­cans age 65 and older and younger peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, mak­ing it the “third rail” of elec­toral pol­i­tics — politi­cians who touch it risk get­ting burned.

Mr. Trump, dur­ing the cam­paign, ad­hered to that be­lief, say­ing he would work to weed out waste and fraud in the big en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, but didn’t plan any ben­e­fit cuts.

Con­gres­sional GOP lead­ers, how­ever, say tough choices are needed to pre­serve Medi­care for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Mr. Trump’s de­ci­sion to se­lect Rep. Tom Price, Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can, as his sec­re­tary of the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment, sparked spec­u­la­tion that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could be pre­par­ing for a Medi­care fight, since the con­gress­man, who suc­ceeded Mr. Ryan as Bud­get Com­mit­tee chief, en­dorsed the Medi­care changes.

Un­der the Ryan plan, the govern­ment would of­fer a fixed con­tri­bu­tion to se­niors to help them buy pri­vate plans. He also wants to grad­u­ally raise the el­i­gi­bil­ity age from 65 to 67 for en­rollees down the road.

Democrats worry the model wouldn’t keep pace with ris­ing med­i­cal costs, leav­ing se­niors in the lurch af­ter they paid into the sys­tem dur­ing their work­ing years.

They say they’re more in line with Mr. Trump on this one — and said they’re ex­pect­ing him to rein in his troops on Capi­tol Hill.

“Mr. Trump, we are go­ing to hold you ac­count­able,” Sen. Bernard San­ders, Vermont in­de­pen­dent, said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence with lead­ing Democrats and ad­vo­cates that felt like a pep rally at times.

Mr. Schumer promised “some heck of a hear­ing” when Mr. Price comes be­fore the Se­nate for con­fir­ma­tion in the new year, though Democrats are pow­er­less to block the nom­i­nee af­ter they em­ployed the so-called “nu­clear op­tion” three years ago, chang­ing Se­nate rules to evis­cer­ate the use of a fil­i­buster to block pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees

In­stead, Se­nate Democrats are heap­ing pub­lic pres­sure on Mr. Trump.

“You could not have been clearer dur­ing the cam­paign about your op­po­si­tion to pro­gram cuts to our na­tion’s be­drock health care pro­grams,” nearly two dozen Se­nate Democrats said Wed­nes­day in a let­ter to the pres­i­dent-elect.

“As it cur­rently stands, your tran­si­tion team’s pol­icy pro­pos­als are shrouded in be­nign-sound­ing cliches that prom­ise to ‘mod­ern­ize’ and ‘max­i­mize flex­i­bil­ity’ for the pro­grams,” they added. “But Amer­i­cans who are watch­ing closely can see your plans for what they are: a poorly veiled re­gur­gi­ta­tion of the plans, sup­ported by Repub­li­cans in the House and Se­nate, to gut Medi­care and Med­i­caid.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the in­com­ing leader of Se­nate Democrats, de­clared Medi­care a red-line is­sue where his party will not cede any ground to con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans.

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