By Representative Betty Sutton
To some, the origins of Medicare may have started with the stroke of a pen by President Lyndon Johnson in the summer of 1965; but as Johnson himself said that day, the true origins of this program stem from generations of Americans who did not have the, "protection or security against the economic effects of sickness."
In the nearly 50 years since Johnson signed Medicare into law, seniors have benefitted from the peace of mind of knowing that even under the worst circumstances, quality health care and economic security is not a possibility or probability, it is a guarantee.
That guarantee is the bedrock for how we care for our seniors in this country. It is a guarantee that is not simply handed out, and is only entitled because it is a service that seniors pay for with their hard work and determination.
Recently, Congress voted on a budget introduced by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin and backed by Speaker John Boehner. Hidden in the hundreds of pages of this budget, between the tax breaks for big oil companies and millionaires and the elimination of assistance for low-income children to access higher education, is an end to the Medicare guarantee.
By turning Medicare into a voucher program for future recipients and passing the burden of health care costs onto seniors, this Republican budget gives Americans an unfair and unjust choice as they age: pay thousands more on premiums to keep the same coverage our seniors have had access to for nearly five decades, or cut their coverage and put their own health and the economic safety of their family at risk.
This is not a choice that any American senior should face. These are not decisions that families should grapple with after a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice. These are decisions that are forced upon Americans by this extreme Republican budget; decisions that change the rules in the middle of the game for far too many, and decisions that benefit far too few.
In the coming months, every American will have an opportunity to make a decision of their own and help guide the direction of this country. Too many politicians in Congress have made their choice for a vision for our country that puts oil companies ahead of veterans, CEO's ahead of teachers, and insurance companies ahead of seniors. It is a vision that is built on a foundation of political expediency and is paid for in American jobs and the health of American seniors.
With a stroke of a pen, this Republican budget could undo nearly a half-century of progress and decades of calls to improve the lives of seniors. By signing this unfair and unbalanced budget into law, we would condemn generations of seniors to a health care system that is outdated and unworthy of America's seniors.
This is not a budget that comes from the wants or needs of working class Americans; this is a budget that comes from the wants of Wall Street and the needs of Washington politicians. I voted against this budget, together with bipartisan opposition, because I believe we can protect and preserve Medicare through compromise. I voted against this budget because I believe in an America where everyone deserves a fair chance at the American Dream; and I voted against this harmful budget because our seniors expect more and deserve better.
On that summer day in late July of 1965, President Johnson reminded us of the courage needed to make decisions of the "great moment," decisions that allow every American to look up and "see the light of hope." Nearly 50 years later, Americans have been forced into a choice between a guarantee of safety and security, and the uncertainty of an archaic and Darwinian health care system that harms seniors to benefit those privileged few at the top. It is not a choice that any senior can afford, but it is one that all Americans should work to ensure they will never have to make.