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Debt Ceiling Limit Talks

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. CHU. Thank you, Congressman Tonko. Thank you for putting this hour together for us to talk about what is at stake with regard to Medicare.

The economic recession is hurting our seniors. The programs they rely on to get by, like Nursicare and Meals on Wheels, are being slashed at the local, State and Federal level. Though prices have risen, they haven't seen a cost-of-living increase in their Social Security checks. Yet the Republicans have been in control of the House for over 6 months and have done nothing to help our struggling seniors. Instead, they have been waging a war on programs that keep them afloat.

First, they pushed through a budget for next year that ends Medicare. It would deny seniors and those of us who are getting older what was a 50-year health care guarantee, one that we have been paying throughout our lives.

Today, under Medicare you are guaranteed coverage the day you turn 65 and for the rest of your life. You can get free preventive care. You can get a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescriptions if you are in the doughnut hole. But now the Republicans are trying to take all that away. The GOP wants to replace Medicare with a voucher system where seniors, once they turn 67, go out into the private market to buy their own health insurance. That puts seniors at the mercy of insurance companies instead of in control of their own care.

We've seen that private insurers will line their pockets rather than provide quality and secure health care. Insurance companies could limit benefits, raise copays, and change which doctors are in their network, none of which occur under Medicare today.

The proposal, rather than tackling skyrocketing health care costs, simply shifts these costs onto the backs of seniors in Medicare. And because the amount of the Medicare voucher won't be tied to rising health care costs, seniors will be forced to shoulder the burden as health care costs increase. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in just 10 short years, out-of-pocket health care expenses for a typical 65-year-old will double under the Republican budget. And in 2030, a new retiree will be paying over $20,000 out of pocket for medical expenses. Rather than fixing our fiscal problems, it just makes seniors pay the bill.

Proponents voted to end Medicare for our seniors because they say we can't afford it. But they're openly pushing for even more budget-busting millionaire tax giveaways. In the same budget that ends Medicare as we know it and makes seniors pay double the health care costs, Big Oil gets tax subsidies, millionaires get tax breaks, and corporations have to pay less taxes. And now we're hearing that Republicans want to make massive cuts in Medicare as payment for their votes on the debt ceiling. Some have proposed requiring Medicare beneficiaries to pay even more for their Medicare benefits, either through higher copays or through higher premiums.

The solution is fixing the real problem of increasing health care costs for all Americans, not shifting cost burdens on our seniors. That's not going to work for the 40 million seniors enrolled in the program who have Medicare for their health and economic security.

But that's not all. Next week, Republicans are going to push through a constitutional amendment to the floor that will force the deepest cuts in Medicare yet. This so-called ``balanced budget amendment'' is just pulling the rug from under the seniors in the name of cutting spending. This amendment is designed to make it easier to reduce the deficit by slashing Medicare benefits rather than by closing tax loopholes for private jets. The way the bill is written, we'd have to privatize Medicare completely and raise its eligibility age to 67.

By forcing Congress to keep spending at unheard of levels, we would inevitably shift the real economic burdens onto the backs of our Nation's most vulnerable, the elderly. It would make it virtually impossible to repeal special tax breaks for the wealthy or Big Oil and gas producers. But it would allow Congress to destroy Medicare with a simple voice vote.

Well, I think that our Federal debt and budget is more than just about dollars and cents. The way we spend our money is a statement of our values and priorities. Republicans want us to believe that cutting benefits to seniors is the only way we can solve our debt crisis, but I say there are other ways. The debt must be addressed, but it should be done in a way that's fair to all. Today the average senior lives on $19,000 a year, just $19,000. We should not balance the budget on the backs of our Nation's seniors. We must protect and strengthen Medicare, not gut it. These talks are about priorities. And my priority is keeping seniors in their own homes, communities, and off the streets.


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