WASHINGTON, D.C. — If the region’s Republican lawmakers get their way, major changes are in store for the nation’s historical safety nets for elderly and low-income citizens.
Before recessing for the next two weeks, the GOP-dominated U.S. House voted to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid on a party line vote of 235 to 193.
The GOP leadership failed to garner a single Democratic vote for their bill, but every Republican in Tennessee and Georgia supported it.
Members of the GOP claim the vote was about saving the country from an unsustainable financial burden imposed by the rising costs of Medicare.
“There’s a crisis here. You can’t sustain Medicare the way it is,” said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., who is on the committee that drafted the controversial bill.
“What we’re trying to do is save Medicare so that the current seniors have good Medicare and so does the future of our country,” she said.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama preemptively lashed out against the GOP proposal.
He says the changes to Medicare would on average cost seniors $6,000 in out of pocket expenses, while the tax provisions in the Republican budget will drop the highest individual tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent — saving million and billionaires hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
In a contentious floor debate, House Democrats echoed the commander-in-chief.
“It forces seniors to pay — to buy their insurance from the health insurance companies where the average senior would be forced to pay twice as much for half the benefit,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a speech on the House floor.
The region’s Republicans note the legislation won’t impact anyone who is currently 55 or older. But it would be a sweeping change for anyone who doesn’t meet that threshold.
“I am committed to protecting senior citizens,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. “But what we have got to do is to look at how these programs as to how they are going to affect younger people.”
The bill also would turn Medicaid into a block grant program, undoing federal mandates currently required for states to be eligible for federal funding.
As for the politics of the divisive vote, the region’s delegation says they’re ready for the heat to come from outside interest groups, their Democratic opponents, and many citizens who polls show are mostly satisfied with Medicare the way it is.
“You’ll get attack ads no matter what you try to do, especially if you try to do the right thing,” said Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga.