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Public Statements

The Republican Road to Ruin Budget

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. TONKO. Mr. Speaker, the Republican road-to-ruin budget, if enacted, will end Medicare. It will end the program that 46 million seniors and disabled individuals depend upon for their health care. This gross injustice is made immeasurably more egregious and offensive by the fact that this is being done not to balance the budget, but to expand and permanently guarantee even bigger tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and to give new tax breaks to some of the world's most profitable companies.

Rather than the path to prosperity, this budget is more like the road-to-riches, a road paved in gold with lavish handouts for special interests, paid for and built with dollars from senior citizens who will see their hard-earned benefits rationed more and more with every passing year.

I have heard a lot of talk in the last few months about the need to make tough choices in this budget. Well, the average senior on Medicare earns just over $19,000 a year. About one-quarter of Medicare beneficiaries suffer from a cognitive or mental impairment, and many have at least one or more chronic medical conditions. I ask my Republican colleagues, what exactly is it about stripping these Americans bare of their health and economic security that qualifies as tough? There is nothing tough about stealing from the poor, the weak and the frail to give to the rich.

Our seniors, on the other hand, know all about tough choices. Do I buy groceries or do I buy prescriptions? Do I pay rent or do I pay medical bills? It hurts, but how much will it cost? These are tough choices. These are life-and-death choices.

With the passage of Medicare in 1965, we entered into a covenant with every American citizen. This budget breaks that promise and brings us back to square one. The Republican voucher plan ends Medicare. Instead, seniors will be on their own, with a measly voucher and forced to buy insurance in the private market, where all decisions will be profit-driven. More profits for insurance companies on the backs of seniors--sounds like a Republican plan to me.

This new voucher program amounts to a ration card, and the value of the voucher is not linked to increases in health care costs in the private market. Yet the costs of private health insurance have risen over 5,000 percent since the creation of Medicare--5,000 percent.

The analysis of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that in less than 20 years, the vouchers under the Republican road-to-ruin budget would pay just 32 cents on every dollar that a senior spends on health care.

Now, the Republicans have repeatedly stated that their budget gives seniors the same coverage as Members of Congress. Well, as a Member of Congress myself, I know that our health plans pay for about 72 cents on every dollar of our health coverage, not 32 cents on the dollar.

According to CBO, the voucher program will provide a ration of $8,000 to seniors every year to purchase their health care from private insurance companies. Yet the private insurance premium charged by Blue Cross in 2010 for a Member of Congress was well over $9,000. Does anyone honestly believe that sick senior citizens and people with permanent disabilities will be able to find coverage from private insurance for $8,000 when they are now charging over $9,000 to Members of Congress?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the average cost of health care for seniors over 65 in 2009 was $11,743. If an insurance company were to take on $11,743 of risk for $8,000, they would be out of business in short order. But Republicans don't believe their insurance company buddies will actually offer coverage for $8,000 or even for $11,743 just to break even. They know that seniors will have to go into their pockets for thousands of dollars as this plan hands Medicare over to the private insurance companies to make even more profits. In fact, CBO found that seniors will have to pay more than twice as much out of pocket as they do today.

This budget takes trillions from seniors and rations their care, and where does it shift the savings? Well, if you guessed permanent tax cuts for millionaires and a new tax break for corporations making billions, you guessed right. After more than a year of hurling lies and demagoguery about death panels and rationing care, Republicans on the panel before us have demanded that we restrict seniors to a health care ration card and ensure that those who cannot afford coverage on their own will be left to suffer or die. Well, therein is the real death penalty they once talked about. They pay lip service to Americans' responsibility to share the burden and instead steal from those who cannot afford an expensive lobbyist and give to millionaires and billionaires and companies that can afford much, much more.

I'm not speaking of playing politics. America knows that our budget is a statement of priorities and values, not purely dollars and cents. America's families set priorities with their own budget each and every day. And I respectfully and honestly disagree with the values and priorities that the Republicans have established in their road-to-ruin budget. Let's not end Medicare.

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