By Miriam Raftery
In the hotly contested 52nd Congressional district race, Democrat Lori Saldaña has recently circulated a video in which her rival, Democrat Scott Peters, tells a KUSI reporter that he would support cuts to entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Today, in an interview with ECM, Peters sought to set the record straight. He now says by "cuts" he meant cuts to reduce cost of services to seniors-- not cuts in benefits.
Both Peters and Saldaña have pledged to strengthen these programs--in sharp contrast to incumbent Congressman Brian Bilbray, who has voted to slash funds and benefits and move toward privatization.
"I don't support the Republican plan to privatize Social Security or voucherize Medicare," he told ECM, directly refuting claims that he would "make a deal with Republicans" for deep cuts in such programs.
Peters does support a balanced budget, as well as looking at new revenues. "We are borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend, but we can't balance it on the backs of our seniors and middle class, particularly seniors who have paid into these benefits. So I don't support taking away any of those benefits," he told ECM today.
He confirmed that he supports cuts to administrative overhead, reducing fraud and abuse, and reducing prescription drug costs for seniors. He wants to see the federal government negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for discount medications for seniors on Medicare, for example.
"Social Security is funded through 2034. It's better off than many people think," he said. Peters noted that under President George W. Bush, Republicans sought to invest Social Security funds in the stock market. "If we had done that in 2008, we would have lost 40% of the value and then Social Security would really be under funded," he said. "It's not appropriate to gamble people's retirement away."
Similarly, he opposes the Republican plan to give vouchers for people to purchase healthcare as alternatives to Medicare. "For lower or middle income people, they would be hard-pressed to come up with that money," he said.
But he added that Medicare costs need to be reduced and the program "strengthened. " Besides negotiating for lower drug costs, he would support improved electronic record keeping to streamline costs and also "incentives in healthcare, beyond just Medicare, for doctors to provide prevention We pay doctors to do procedures but not to teach people about nutrition. If you could delay by ten years the onset of heart disease or diabetes, you would provide savings. That's how you assure that healthcare is affordable, whether it's Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare (military healthcare)."
Asked his views of the Affordable Healthcare Care Act (or Obamacare), Peters said that overall it is "a huge advance" with many good aspects, such as preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and allowing parents to keep kids on their healthcare plans until age 26. While he voiced concerns over some aspects, such as impacts on small businesses, he believes the many positive aspects of the healthcare reform law must be retained.
"My goal is to make healthcare affordable and accessible to everyone," he said, adding that he opposes the Republican call for repealing the President's healthcare plan. But he added, "We have not reached affordability yet; there is still a lot of work to do."
Peters noted that America has "the highest healthcare costs in the world, even though we are not getting the best outcomes. We have to make changes, but I don't believe we should cut benefits for our seniors who have paid in and earned their benefits."
The newly redrawn 52nd Congressional district seat is currently held by Republican Brian Bilbray. Bilbray has voted to slash funds for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He voted to create a voucher program to replace Medicare and voted to cut Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age, according to links to his voting record provided at www.StrenghtenSocialSecurity.org.