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Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, it is no great secret that the Congress has a very low favorable rating. Many people shake their heads and they wonder why this institution is so dysfunctional. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I suggest one of the reasons has to do with a lot of hypocrisy that we see in both bodies of Congress. I will give one example.
As all of us know, during the recent Presidential campaign, Republicans attacked Democrats over and over for voting to cut Medicare as part of the Affordable Care Act. They ran a significant part of their campaign on saying: Democrats have cut Medicare. We Republicans are here to protect Medicare.
In fact, this is exactly what Mitt Romney said on August 15, 2012.
My campaign has made it very clear: the President's cuts of $716 billion to Medicare, those cuts are going to be restored if I become President and Paul Ryan becomes Vice President.
The reality is that what we did under the Affordable Care Act resulted in zero cuts to benefits. We tried to make the system more efficient. But be that as it may, the Republicans posed as great champions of Medicare against those terrible Democrats who wanted to cut it. Meanwhile, Democrats went to town, taking on the Ryan budget which did make devastating cuts to Medicare and, in fact, wanted to voucherize that program. So we have Republicans beating Democrats for ostensibly--not accurately--trying to cut Medicare, Democrats attacking Republicans for, in fact--accurately--wanting to cut Medicare, and where are we today?
If we read the newspapers we hear and we know as a fact that Mr. Boehner, the Republican Speaker, has proposed devastating cuts in Medicare--a month after the election where the Republicans said they were going to defend Medicare. They want to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. Frankly, I am concerned there may be some Democrats--not a whole lot, I hope none, but some Democrats--who may end up going along with that disastrous proposal. That is hypocrisy. Everybody during the campaign is saying the other guy wants to cut Medicare. The day after the campaign, our Republican friends are talking about devastating cuts and maybe some Democrats are prepared to support that.
Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 would be an unmitigated disaster. It would cut Medicare benefits by $162 billion over the next decade and would deny Medicare to over 5 million Americans who are 65 or 66 years old.
The American people, when asked how do you feel: We are looking at deficit reduction. Do you think it is a good idea to raise the Medicare age? The American people overwhelmingly say, no, that is a dumb idea, don't do it.
According to a November 28, 2012, ABC News Washington Post poll, 67 percent of the American people are opposed to raising the Medicare eligibility age, including 71 percent of Democrats and, I suggest to my Republican friends, 68 percent of Republicans, 62 percent of Independents.
While there may be division in the Senate or House, there is no division among the American people. They think
it is a dumb idea and the American people are right. They are right for very obvious reasons.
Think about some woman who is 66 years of age, not feeling well. She goes into the doctor's office and she is diagnosed with a serious health care problem. There is no Medicare there for her. What does she do? She goes over to a private insurance company. What do you think the private insurance company is going to charge this person who is already ill? An outrageous rate she cannot afford. What happens to this senior, that person who is 65 or 66? Do they die? Do they go bankrupt? Do they go to their kids who do not have the money to help them stay alive? It is a disastrous idea.
Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 would leave at least 435,000 seniors uninsured every year. Imagine being 66 and not having health insurance. Easy for folks around here in the Congress to laugh. Easy for wealthy people to laugh about it. It isn't so funny when you are living on $15,000 or $20,000 a year and have no health insurance. It would increase costs to businesses by $4.5 billion. It would, of course, increase out-of-pocket costs for seniors; the estimate is about $3.7 billion.
For the individual senior, the estimate is that for two-thirds of seniors age 65 to 66, they would pay an average of $2,200 more for health care. They are trying to live on $20,000, $25,000, $30,000 a year. Suddenly they are hit, on average--could be more, could be less--$2,200 a year. On it goes.
It would increase premiums by about 3 percent for those enrolled in the health care exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act because many 65- and 66-year-olds would be enrolled in the exchanges instead of Medicare. It would save the Federal Government $5.7 billion in 2014, but it would cost seniors, businesses and State and local governments $11.4 billion--double that, double what the Federal Government would save.
I hope all those folks who, before the election--Republicans and Democrats--were running around the country and in their own States saying: We are for the middle class; we are going to protect Medicare--I hope they go back and read their preelection speeches and stick to what they said before the election.
That is one of the issues out there in terms of the so-called fiscal cliff or deficit reduction. Let me talk about another insidious one, in terms of raising the age of 65 to 67 on Medicare. That is a disaster, but it is pretty clear, everybody understands what it is about. There is now an underhanded way, an insidious way that some people are talking about doing deficit reduction, the so-called chained CPI, which nobody outside Washington, DC, has a clue as to what it is about.
What it would do is change the formulation in terms of how we determined COLAs for seniors, disabled vets, and others. The bottom line is, in my view and the view of many economists, we underestimate the inflationary cost of what seniors are spending because a lot of their spending goes into prescription drugs, health care, and that has gone up faster than general inflation. What the chained CPI says is: Oh, no. What we have now is too generous and we have to cut back. We have to make the COLA skimpier.
This is exactly what a chained CPI would do for people on Social Security. What it says is that somebody who was age 65 would see their benefits cut by $560 a year when they turn 75 and $1,000 a year when they turn 85. Again, I know we have CEOs from Wall Street who have huge salaries, who receive huge bonuses, who have the best care available in the world, they have great retirement programs--these guys who were bailed out by the working families of America when their greed nearly destroyed the financial system of the world--they are now coming to Capitol Hill and they are saying we have to cut Social Security and we have to cut Medicare and we have to cut Medicaid.
For those guys, when we talk about $560 a year for somebody who is 75, that is not a lot of money and $1 thousand when you are 85--what is a thousand bucks? Let me tell you, $1,000 is a lot of money when you are trying to survive on $18,000 or $20,000 a year. We must not allow that to take place.
There is something many people do not know; that is, the chained CPI would go beyond cutting benefits for seniors on Social Security. It would take a real devastating whack at disabled veterans. What about that? I want my Republican friends or any Democrats who support that to come to the floor of the Senate and tell the American people that when we send young men and women over to Afghanistan and Iraq and they got their arms blown off, they got their legs blown off, and we are now going to balance the budget on their backs by cutting benefits for disabled veterans--come to the floor of the Senate and tell the American people they support a chained CPI which would do exactly that.
We have some folks here saying, yes, people are making billions of dollars, we don't want to cut their taxes. But, yes, we will cut benefits for disabled vets who lost their arms and legs in Afghanistan. That is an obscenity and I hope very much we do not go in that direction.
When we talk about deficit reduction, we have to deal with it. It is a serious problem. There is a lot of discussion about the need to deal with $4 trillion over a 10-year period, and I support that. Let's talk about a way we can go forward without balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, disabled vets, working families.
First of all, we have to understand and acknowledge that in the deficit reduction debates of 2010 and 2011, the Republicans won, basically, those negotiations. We have to be honest about that. Republicans acknowledge that. Some Democrats do. Republicans are tougher than Democrats, Democrats cave, Republicans stand tall.
We have to understand, despite the fact we have a growing inequality in this country, rich getting richer, middle class shrinking, after all the discussions about deficit reduction, the wealthiest people in this country have yet to pay one nickel more in taxes. But because the Democrats are not quite as tough as the Republicans, what has happened is that we have cut, in those two negotiations, $1.1 trillion in spending already.
So if we are talking about a $4 trillion bill, understand that we have already cut $1.1 trillion, which leaves $2.9 trillion to be dealt with. I think the President is right, and I simply hope this time he sticks to his guns and does what he says.
What I am suggesting is that there are ways to do deficit reduction that are fair. The first point, in terms of $4 trillion over a 10-year period, we have already cut over $1 trillion in terms of spending--$1.1 trillion. No. 2, I think the President is right in suggesting we have to ask for significant revenue from the wealthiest people in this country--the top 2 percent--without asking for any tax increases for the bottom 98 percent. That would add $1.6 trillion in revenue, bringing us somewhere around $2.7 trillion, so we have a $1.3 trillion problem. Over a 10-year period, that is not a difficult problem to solve.
Let me throw out a few ideas, and I am sure other people have equally good ideas.
Before we cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, we might want to address the reality that this country is losing about $100 billion every single year from corporations and wealthy people who are stashing their money in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and other tax havens, and $100 billion is a heck of a lot of money.
At a time when gas and oil prices have soared recently, when we know major oil companies have in recent years paid nothing, in some cases--despite being enormously profitable--in Federal taxes, we can and must end tax breaks and subsidies for oil, gas, and coal companies.
This country is now spending almost as much as the rest of the world combined in terms of defense. Our friends and allies in Europe provide health care for all their people. In many of these countries, college education is free. We are spending twice as much as part of our GDP as they spend on defense. I think it is time to take a hard look at defense spending, and I think we can make cuts there which will still leave us with the kind of military we need to defend ourselves.
Instead of raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, instead of cutting benefits, we can make Medicare and Medicaid more efficient. I believe we can save at least $200 billion over a 10-year period by eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse and lowering prescription drug costs for seniors. For example, the Medicare Part D prescription drug program prohibited Medicare from negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices. The VA negotiates, and other government agencies negotiate. Medicare should be able to do that.
Fortunately, the war in Iraq is over. We are about to wind down in Afghanistan, and there are savings there.
So before I give the mic over to my colleague from Vermont, I wish to conclude by saying, yes, we go forward on deficit reduction, but there are ways to do it. At a time of growing wealth and income inequality in America, we can move forward and make significant reductions in our national debt, in our deficit, without doing it on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor.
Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that an article from the Washington Post on the subject of increasing the age for Medicare eligibility be printed in the Record.
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