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This Week in Washington

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One of the most troubling and popular trends in Washington is the debate over which parts of the social safety net promised to senior citizens should be abandoned, and which promises made to older Americans the government should permitted to break. I have fought both parties in my ongoing effort to defend Medicare, and I continue to be attacked from both sides for that effort. I welcome the attacks and I stand steadfast in defense of the commitment made to older Americans in decades past. Our nation must get its fiscal house in order, but it is unthinkable to do so at the expense of senior citizens.

I have sponsored a balanced budget amendment and I know that government spending must be gotten under control. I also know that senior citizens who depend on Social Security and Medicare are not to blame for our nation's budgetary shortfall, nor should they be asked to bear the burden of paying it off. Our nation's senior citizens helped create modern America and its place of leadership and exceptionalism in the world. We owe them dignity and comfort and independence in their latter years. It was promised to them, and they should receive nothing less.

In establishing Social Security and Medicare, our nation recognized the importance of caring for seniors, and made a solemn commitment to do so. Our senior citizens have earned the right to be treated with respect as they navigate the twilight of life. That journey is challenging enough without government making it worse by denying care to those who need it most. It is never the right time to shortchange senior citizens of the care and respect they are due.

I will never play politics or hold hostage the wellbeing of our Greatest Generation or the generations to follow, who have, in their own way, contributed to strengthening and defending America. Home health care and, when needed, hospice care, are the most humane and cost-effective ways to care for older people. These services allow senior citizens to remain in their homes while maintaining their independence and their dignity. In the true selflessness that is the trademark of the current generations of older Americans, the one thing senior citizens tell me they fear most is "being a burden to my family" if they become sick. Medicare and Social Security and the services and options they make available to older Americans at least spare them of some of that concern.

No man who landed at Normandy or survived Pearl Harbor or helped chase Rommel out of North Africa should be forced to face the fear of not being able to afford medication when they need it. No woman who went to work riveting airplanes or welding battleships should now be left to face the indignity of not being able to see a doctor when she is sick.

People in Washington play games with the health and wellbeing of seniors, and that is not a game I'm willing to play. For years, politicians have raided the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to pay for irresponsible spending. Now they say these vital programs must be cut, or as they say, "re-structured in order to keep them solvent." It is infuriating that the very people who have drained the savings accounts of these programs now complain that the programs have no money. It is like a robbing a man of everything he owns, and then criticizing him for being broke. The injury is bad enough; you'd think we could be spared the insult. Make no mistake; taking more than $700 billion dollars away from it will not save Medicare. Gutting something in order to preserve it is taxidermy, not public policy. If politicians are serious about preserving the program promised to and counted on by our senior citizens, then the trust fund should be restored and the taking from it must stop.

Another real problem created by the all the cuts and threatened cuts to Medicare is that many health care providers no longer see Medicare patients because they fear not being paid for their services. For all the good they do and the all the good they intend, the fact is that health care providers must be fairly and timely compensated for their work. A senior citizen should not be afraid of running up huge debts when they go see the doctor, and the doctor should have some certainty of reimbursement for the care that is delivered. The only way to ensure this is to keep Medicare solvent and intact and have its trust fund replenished.

I will fight any attempt to so-call "privatize" Social Security. These are merely schemes to take money owed to working Americans and turn it over to Wall Street to gamble. The benefits and payments owed to seniors must be guaranteed. As we have learned in the hardest possible way in recent years, there are no guarantees on Wall Street, especially when they are allowed to play loose with other people's money. We must work to make Social Security and Medicare solvent. Cutting billions from those programs or turning their assets over to hedge fund managers to gamble are not the answers.

The time has come for our nation, and those charged with the sacred duty of its stewardship, to come together to defend the commitments made to our senior citizens. This must be a non-partisan effort. I stand in the crossfire of those from both sides of the aisle who act as if the money paid in by senior citizens and the benefits they are due are just part of the general fund to be cut, siphoned off, redirected and misspent. It is a fight I am proud to make, and one I have every intention of continuing.


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