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Uncommon Ground

Ending Medicare

Medicare

What Congress chooses to debate sets a political tone for the nation. Today, elder statesmen must speak to middle class values if people hope to protect programs like Medicare from the U.S. House.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s single-payer health care insurance plan provides health care coverage for people over 65, nearly 50 million seniors, including 167,000 Montanans. It’s a growing constituency group. And seniors consistently vote.

Seniors already paid into Medicare. A big part of the funding comes from paycheck deductions that seniors earned during their lifetimes. Recently the U.S. House passed legislation to defund and privatize Medicare, replacing it with a voucher program. According to the Congressional Budget Office, new seniors would soon pay two-thirds more for out-of-pocket costs when applying to private insurance corporations for benefits. The House rational is simple: pay down national debt. And its plan would end Medicare as we know it.

The House’s politicians have apparently forgotten that seniors do not look kindly to anyone messing around with Social Security or Medicare. During a 2005 town hall meeting in Great Falls, Montana Sen. Max Baucus handed former President George W. Bush a memorable schooling on how important Social Security is to seniors.

A few weeks ago Baucus said, “We can’t allow the House to end Medicare and hand seniors’ health care over to private insurance companies – and we won’t, no, not on my watch.” Baucus is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the Medicare program.

We can only hope that the House wises up to the fact that seniors will not tolerate the national debt being financed by ending Medicare. There are many more realistic options to managing debt than turning national policy radically to the right and asking middle class seniors to pay up.

At a Wisconsin town hall meeting, Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was openly booed by groups of seniors as he pressed his plan to privatize Medicare. That denunciation was reminiscent of the Great Falls gathering, where seniors sided with Baucus and publicly stood in protest of the Bush plan to privatize Social Security.

The House has an uphill battle to persuade seniors that ending Medicare is a good idea, according to John Rother, of AARP – the largest group representing older Americans. Rother recently said, “For somebody in their early 50s, I’d say hold on to your wallet – it’s going to mean higher costs and lower benefits.”

With Baucus at the helm, it is hard to imagine how Medicare could be privatized. But if the Senate changes hands next election, “that’s a whole different story,” according to Rother.

The House plan to cut debt is merely lopsided. It requires the middle class to pay more and privatizes Medicare, but gives more massive tax cuts to the wealthy while refusing to acknowledge military spending. That kind of plan is simply unbalanced and driven by ideology.

The 2011 Montana Legislature’s insular dogma, coupled with the U.S. House plan to privatize Medicare, paints a stark debut for the new-brand, nevermind representatives who are out of touch with local values. Firebrand politicians and culture war ideology do not make for happy constituents.

Middle America recognizes the worth of a “taxed enough already” code. But the culture war politicians that were unleashed on an old-time GOP is a matter for Republicans to now manage. The sooner the moderates act together to put a foot down, the better for middle class America.

Baucus was spot-on when he exclaimed that privatizing Medicare would not happen on his watch. Washington, D.C. should stand-up for middle class programs while properly balancing the nation’s ledger. Seniors paid their way into a single-payer health plan and honoring elders is the duty of a great society.

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