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This Week in Washington


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Budgets, and therefore debates concerning budgets, are about much more than numbers--they are about priorities. Whether it is a family figuring out how to make ends meet, a small town trying to keep property taxes and water rates as low as possible, or the federal government trying to rein in years of overspending to begin to address the escalating problem of our national debt, there is more to a budget than mere accounting. Budgets reveal what we value and what we deem to be expendable. Medicare isn't expendable.

Last week, a colleague of mine in the House of Representatives, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, presented a budget plan for 2012. Depending on who you listen to, Rep. Ryan's budget is estimated to cut anywhere from 3 to 5 trillion dollars from the national debt in the coming decade. And while the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has placed doubt on the accuracy of these estimates, it is Rep. Ryan's priorities, as well as his arithmetic, that I take issue with.

The CBO's analysis of the proposal tells a dismal tale for our nation's senior and disabled citizens who will be forced to pay greatly increased out-of-pocket health care costs. In addition to increasing costs and limiting benefits to our seniors, the CBO has also determined that, by the end of the 10-year budget cycle, public debt will actually be higher by three percent of gross domestic product than it would be if the plan were not enacted.

Some things are certain. Politicians will argue about these numbers for the rest of the year, our nation must get spending under control, and we must not penalize the most vulnerable citizens in our society in order to do so.

As I have done before, I refer you to Hubert Humphrey who said, "The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped." I believe that even in these times of dire budget crisis, our nation must prioritize its spending, as well as its cuts to spending.

Whether it is called Privatization, Personalization, or Premium Support, Rep. Ryan's plan proposes doing away with the current Medicare system, replacing it with payments that will help seniors buy private insurance. Medicare was created because private insurers have historically been uninterested in covering older people who are more likely to develop costly health problems as they age. The premiums likely to be charged to older people by private insurers would far outpace the stipend to be paid under the Ryan Plan, and would leave seniors either broke from paying for insurance, or one illness away from financial ruin.

I cannot support a plan which cuts Medicare coverage and benefits, and increases the cost of health care for senior citizens while we continue to give government subsidies to big oil companies whose combined profits last year were in excess of one trillion dollars. I do not dislike the concept of profit. It is a good thing that businesses profit. But no group of businesses that are among the most profitable enterprises in the history of the world should be receiving taxpayer-funded subsidies while we contemplate cutting benefits to, and violating the promises made to, our senior citizens.

Nothing hurts our economy more than the outsourcing of American jobs due to bad trade deals and failed policies. What does it say about our national priorities that we will consider cutting benefits to senior citizens while we continue to give hundreds of millions in tax dollars to companies that ship American jobs overseas? Americans need jobs. Senior citizens are owed security. Our budget should reflect these facts and stop giving money and tax breaks to companies that move jobs offshore. We can no longer afford to pay companies to ship our jobs to foreign countries at a time when some politicians are considering stripping seniors of their long-promised benefits, leaving them only one illness away from bankruptcy, homelessness or worse.

I support compromise. I've continued to work with folks on both sides of the aisle, including supporting the most recent Continuing Resolution to keep our government up and running. That being said, there are some things that I'm simply not willing to compromise on.

Medicare and Social Security form the primary social safety net that provides a minimally acceptable quality of life for senior citizens. That is why I will continue my fight against any attempts to cut funding to Medicare and the services it provides to the disabled, the terminally ill and senior citizens. Senior citizens have earned the right to live with dignity as they enter and navigate the twilight of life. That journey is sufficiently challenging without the government making it worse by denying key elements of care to those who need it most. It is never the right time to shortchange our seniors of the care and dignity they are due, and I will not support any budget that attempts to do so.

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