With Republicans on the ropes when it comes to defending their proposal to privatize Medicare, a group of Senate Democrats is hoping to deliver a body blow to GOP plans to push for the proposal in talks about reducing the nation’s spiraling debt.
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) on Monday called for Republicans to take Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan for Medicare off the table in ongoing bipartisan deficit-reduction talks.
“We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to pay down the debt but not at the expense of our seniors’ healthcare,” Brown told reporters on a conference call. “Ending Medicare as we know it should not be part of our debt-reduction negotiations.”
Ryan’s Medicare proposal has sparked a backlash with the public and has been roundly panned in national polls. Some Republicans are already distancing themselves from the plan, but GOP leaders and most of the party’s presidential contenders remaining strongly committed to it.
The Democratic senators wrote a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading these discussions, urging the administration to remain strongly opposed to any GOP efforts to insert the Ryan plan into a massive deficit-reduction package.
Those signing the letter include: Brown and Cardin, as well as Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jon Tester (D-MT).
“The reason for the letter is that the Republicans are using the debt-ceiling to try to move forward their extreme agenda — to try to move Medicare to a voucher program,” Cardin said. “This is not about balancing the budget. It’s about fundamentally changing our commitment to our seniors.”
Democrats have been on the anti-Ryan Medicare plan offensive since Democrat Kathy Hochul won an improbable victory in a special election last month focused almost entirely on the issue.
Schumer on Monday called the Ryan Medicare plan the “biggest barrier to making progress” in debt-reduction talks.
Republicans counter-punch by pointing out that Democrats have yet to submit their own detailed plan about reforming Medicare before it goes bankrupt by 2024, as some estimates predict. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Monday released a statement criticizing Democrats for ignoring the surging debt while the economy suffers as a result.
“As Americans lose their jobs, Senate Democrats refuse to perform their own,” Sessions’ release stated.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has set Aug. 2 as a deadline for Congress to raise the debt-ceiling or facet the economic fallout of defaulting. As the clock clicks down this summer, both sides are under increasing pressure to reach a deal.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) earlier Monday acknowledged Aug. 2 as a legitimate deadline for increasing the nation’s debt limit after previously playing down talks of a deadline and a looming economic crisis if it isn’t reached. Republicans are seeking trillions in spending cuts as part of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling.