Every time you turn on the television, you hear another politician telling us that America is broke - and the solutions always seem to be the same: cut taxes for millionaires while cutting Medicare and Social Security for seniors; preserve billions in subsidies for big oil companies, while ending job training programs for working people.
But the real problem is that our system is broken. In the last 30 years, our economy has doubled in size. The pie has gotten bigger, but the people cutting it are cutting themselves bigger and bigger slices.
We all know that one of the greatest challenges before us is reducing our nation's deficit. We must be serious about this responsibility and understand the urgency of reducing spending. That's why I've already voted to make tens of billions of dollars in budget cuts this year alone - including nearly $150 million in outrageous subsidies to Brazilian cotton farmers, $400 million to cut infrastructure improvements in Afghanistan and another $450 million by cutting a Joint Strike Fighter engine that even the Pentagon says it no longer needs.
The fact of the matter is that we have to cut spending but we have to be serious about how we do it. We have to do it in a way that preserves our economic future and is consistent with our values as a nation. One of those values is protecting our seniors.
We call them the "Greatest Generation" because they fought two world wars, beat back Soviet communism, sent a man to the moon, and created the most powerful economy the world has ever known. Our parents and grandparents knew that if they worked hard and played by the rules, they could count on good benefits and a secure retirement. But that didn't happen by itself. It took the efforts of hard-working people to establish our country's economic growth. It took a government that had our back, making sure working people had unemployment insurance in tough times, and seniors had Social Security and Medicare in their golden years. But all of this is now threatened by the Republican budget.
Balancing the budget on the backs of our nation's seniors by making huge cuts in Medicare benefits and putting insurance company bureaucrats in charge of health care is dead wrong. The Republican budget means that every single person in Rhode Island under the age of 55 would lose the guarantee of Medicare and be left to fight the insurance companies, who are making profits hand over fist, just to see a doctor, access routine care and even worse, obtain critical surgical procedures.
What's more, this budget proposal would immediately re-establish the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, making those critical prescriptions more expensive for our seniors at a time when they can least afford to pay for them. What effect would this have in Rhode Island? If this budget proposal were to be adopted, it would mean 16,976 Rhode Islanders impacted by the "donut hole" will pay, in total, an additional $9.5 million for their prescription drugs in 2012.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Republican plan would more than double the typical senior's out-of-pocket health care spending over the next decade - increasing their out-of-pocket costs by more than $6,000. They also concluded that seniors would get less care at higher costs under this Republican budget.
Finally, it would leave many seniors in nursing homes at immediate risk because of cuts in Medicaid funding for nursing home care.
In Congress I will continue to fight hard to preserve and strengthen Medicare and I have taken a strong stand against the Republican budget that ends Medicare.
It's unfortunate that we are on the brink of breaking the promise we made to our seniors, especially at a time when that promise means the most to them. Once we finally stop this assault on Medicare we can focus our attention on the resources seniors tell me are the most important, like a cost of living adjustment in Social Security benefits, as our economy continues to recover. I have co-sponsored legislation to do just that.
Our nation's seniors deserve a secure retirement and dignity in their later years. It's time our leaders showed the backbone to defend them. After all, the measure of our prosperity as a nation isn't just how much wealth we can amass, it's whether the people who helped create that prosperity - particularly, our seniors - can share in it, and have the freedom to live the rewarding lives they deserve.
Member, U.S. Congress
Cicilline represents Rhode Island's First Congressional District.