Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Joke of the Day
Back when President Reagan started mouthing off about budget cuts, he said there would be a "safety net"" to protect the "truly needy." At the time, I knew he was kidding. His neo-conservative agenda is a well-crafted rationalization for hurting decent working people and advancing the wealthy. Today, it has all come true for his political children. This is my opinion.
Here is what Senator Lincoln had to say about today's budget cuts. She is 100% right.
M. President, at a time when America’s working families face so many challenges – rising gas prices, unaffordable health care, and out-of-control child care costs – I am deeply disappointed that we are considering such harsh spending cuts that directly impact millions of hard-working American families. This budget reconciliation bill contains nearly $40 billion in cuts over five years and burdensome program changes to Medicaid, child support enforcement, Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and poor, foster care, and other programs. It also places new, inordinate burdens on states administering the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program while providing sorely inadequate child care funding. Additionally, it fails our nation’s farmers by delaying commodity program benefits.
I understand the need to tighten our belts. Our nation’s deficit is exploding, and I am committed to addressing it. However, I don’t believe that we should make middle and lower income Americans, children, and individuals with disabilities foot the bill. The entire burden of reigning in our nation’s deficit should not fall on their shoulders. It is unconscionable that Congress would make it harder for working families to get child care so they can go to work, for single parents to get child support checks so they can afford to feed their families, for children to get physical therapy to lessen the impact of a disability, or for a middle class family to afford nursing home care for their elderly parents struggling with dementia or other chronic illness.
The cuts to Medicaid would force families to pay more for their health care and would provide them with fewer health care benefits. Children would no longer be guaranteed complete health care, potentially leaving them without proper vision screenings, therapy services, or medical equipment that would allow them to attend school. New, overly punitive asset transfer policies would penalize the elderly for not accurately anticipating their future health care needs, leaving them with few, or no, options for long term care. Community pharmacists also are at risk, particularly those serving rural communities.
I have long been involved in the reauthorization of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. One of my priorities has been to reward states for getting people into good jobs instead of rewarding states for pushing people off the welfare rolls. This bill takes the absolute wrong approach, telling states that getting people off the welfare rolls is more important than helping them get good paying jobs. The most blatant example of this "get them off the rolls" approach is reflected in the horribly inadequate child care funding.
M. President, this bill also includes $8.3 billion in cuts to Medicare over five years. Seniors, individuals with disabilities, and health care providers bear the burden of these enormous cuts. Even though the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) strongly recommended to eliminate the so-called "stabilization fund" for health insurance plans, the conferees decided to maintain this large subsidy to insurers. Ending this subsidy for insurers would have saved taxpayers and Medicare seniors $5.4 billion over five years.
But the conferees of this bill did not want to take money away from health insurance plans. Instead of obtaining Medicare savings from a common-sense policy, this bill cuts payments to home health care by $2 billion. It cuts hospital quality improvement by $300 million. It cuts Medicare disproportionate share hospital payments by $1.2 billion, durable medical equipment by $2.9 billion, and imaging services by $2.8 billion.
On top of all that, it increases Medicare premiums by $1.6 billion and fails to hold premiums harmless from the temporary payment fix for Medicare payments to physicians. This hits seniors right in the pocketbook. While I support ensuring that physicians do not receive a cut in Medicare payments, seniors in Arkansas are already struggling to pay their monthly Medicare premiums, and we should not be adding to that burden.
In 2005, premiums increased by 17% to $78.20 per month. This marked the second consecutive year of double-digit increases. In 2006, the Medicare premium will rise to $88.50 per month. And these provisions will increase it even more. Right now, millions of seniors are choosing a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. In Arkansas, they are deciding between at least 40 different plans, all with different premiums and benefit packages. An increase to their Part B premium may dissuade them from signing up for a prescription drug plan. They may decide they simply cannot afford it. And that is a tragedy.
Additionally, farmers should view this reconciliation effort as a clear indication that the commodity provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill are in jeopardy. Commodities, unlike conservation programs, were not extended in this bill and will likely face a considerable push from the Administration to make drastic changes, if not, wholesale elimination of the programs as they currently exist when the Farm Bill reauthorization occurs in 2007. Specifically, the Budget reconciliation will cut commodity programs by $1.4 billion through a reduction in the advance direct payment to farmers. This will result in farmers facing uncertain futures with respect to receiving their commodity title support payments. This is especially troublesome in light of the Administration’s refusal to give farmers emergency disaster relief funding during one of their most difficult years.
M. President, in conclusion, this budget reconciliation spending bill is irresponsible and shows some the misplaced priorities of this administration and some of my colleagues. We should be talking about ways to help our fellow Americans who are working hard to provide for their families, to keep their families healthy and happy, and to take care of their aging parents. We shouldn’t be tearing them down and making their lives more difficult. This bill is filled with misplaced priorities and I wholeheartedly oppose it.
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