U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaking in Waunakee, blasted Republican efforts to “gut Medicare” and roll back other health care provisions for older Americans.
Pelosi said concern over changes to Medicare has “exploded” as an issue in recent weeks.
“While we must reduce the deficit, create jobs and strengthen the middle class, we can’t say we are going to get the funds to do that from Medicare,” she said.
“That’s a false economy to say you won’t have preventive care for seniors or that you'll save money be telling seniors to take a voucher and go shop in the private sector for insurance.”
The congresswomen were joined by Waunakee senior advocate Joan Ruppenthal, a retired public health nurse, who said she believes Medicare should be strengthened.
“Medicare is kind of like a puppy dog,” she said. “It gives you unconditional love. They accept everyone, and private insurance companies do not do that. Medicare is a lifeline for a lot of people. Why destroy something that is working so well now?”
Baldwin called Medicare one of the nation’s “most successful and valued programs” that has kept seniors from “living out their days in poverty.”
And she praised Medicare as a “contract we make with our seniors that if you work hard, play by the rules and contribute a fair share in your earning years, then you will have medical care in your senior years.”
The congresswoman said she saw first-hand how Medicare helped her grandmother, who raised her from infancy, when she became elderly and frail.
“Because of Medicare, I was able to care for her and establish my own career not saddled by debt,” she said.
Baldwin said the Republican plan passed by the House and authored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville, would cut benefits and force seniors to buy insurance on their own.
“According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, most elderly people would pay more for medical care and get less than they do under Medicare.”
In addition, she said the Republican budget would roll back reforms passed by Congress last year and re-open the Part D prescription drug donut hole.
“Seniors would immediately begin paying higher costs for their medications. And, under their plan, the cost to beneficiaries of Medicare coverage would rise dramatically.
“Not one dollar of that increase in beneficiary costs goes to reducing the deficit ," she charged. "It all goes to cover the higher costs of private plans that the Republicans would force seniors to join. “
Quoting Lyndon Johnson, who was president when Medicare was enacted in 1965, Pelosi called the program “a pillar of economic security” for seniors.
She also criticized Republican efforts to cut preventive care included in Medicare, which she said lowers costs, and asked “now you tell me how that’s a good idea for reducing the deficit?
“We all know that we need to reduce the deficit, but not how the Republic budget would do it,” she added. “Cutting Medicare while giving tax breaks to Big Oil and corporations that send jobs overseas is not fair. It’s selfish."
Baldwin also said today she's still considering a possible run for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl.
"I'm undertaking a serious evaluation, and I will let you know the result in the future," she said.
Pelosi said she'd be sad to see Baldwin leave the House, but argued that the Madison congresswoman would be a strong advocate for Wisconsin in the Senate. She said she has no idea if Baldwin will go after Kohl's seat.
"Her timing is her timing, and she let us know that from the start," Pelosi said.
Baldwin praised Kohl for his work to improve health care for older Americans.
"As a champion for seniors, he will be irreplaceable," she said. "He is joining in the fight to make sure we continue the promise of Medicare."