Democrats gird for ‘war’ over Medicare Point to Trump’s vow to preserve programs for seniors
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 “premium-support” 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.”