KUNM

Medicare Cuts: 'End As You Know It' Or Future Gift?

Mar 24, 2012
Originally published on March 24, 2012 8:41 am

Democrats lost no time in attacking the budget plan House Republicans introduced Tuesday. The plan saves money by overhauling Medicare, but Democrats argue it will destroy the program.

One of the Democrats leading the charge is Vice President Joe Biden. Taking on the role of candidate, Biden was in Coconut Creek, Fla., giving the second in what he promises will be a series of campaign speeches challenging the Republicans.

There are few places in Florida more welcoming to Democrats than Wynmoor Village, a large retirement community populated largely by people from the Northeast. Residents say there are a few closet Republicans, but more independents.

"I'm worried about Medicare for our children, not for me," one independent, Ron Goldberg, said. "I'm already there. But will it be there for our kids and our grandkids? That's the problem."

'Make No Mistake'

That's an idea House Republicans are hoping to capitalize on with their budget. Crafted by Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, it seeks to save more than $200 billion from Medicare over the next 10 years by moving future generations into privately run health plans.

When Ryan first proposed the idea in last year's budget, it was panned. This year's version has some important changes: Future seniors would have the option of retaining traditional Medicare. Also, because it builds on ideas Ryan developed with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, Republicans are able to claim it's bipartisan.

But Biden told his audience of seniors not to believe it.

"Make no mistake about it. If the Republicans in Congress, and their amen corner of Romney, Santorum and Gingrich — if any one of them get ... the keys to the White House — I promise you, you will see Medicare ended as you know it," he said.

Biden says there's no question the baby boom generation — now moving into retirement age — provides real challenges for Social Security, with the number of seniors doubling by 2040. Biden says faced with those challenges, the nation has a choice. Republicans and Democrats can work together, as they have in the past.

"Or ... are we going to use these challenges as a pretense to do what so many have been trying to do from the beginning: dismantle both of these programs?" he said.

That's a message Democrats expect to take to the general election in November, both in the race for the White House and in congressional campaigns.

On Message

Even before House Republicans voted to adopt the Ryan budget, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rolled out a website and started making robocalls targeting 41 vulnerable House Republicans.

One of them is a first-term congressman from Orlando, Fla., Daniel Webster.

"I think the detractors from this budget are thinking about the next election," he says. "I think the Republicans in Congress are thinking about the next generation."

Webster says the Ryan budget, with its Medicare overhaul, is an important step toward a balanced budget.

Politico reported Thursday on a briefing given to House Republicans to help them sell the plan to constituents. Call it "bipartisan," they were told, and use phrases like "fix Medicare and keep it from going bankrupt."

In describing the Medicare overhaul, Webster stuck to the script.

"It's a bipartisan Medicare proposal that strengthens it and saves it actually from extinction," he said. "And if we don't do something ... it's going to go bankrupt. However, fixing it now is the key."

Webster is expected to be in a tight race this year. He says the key will be winning over independents. That means reaching people like Wynmoor village resident Arlene Grossman, an independent.

"Of course he said what the seniors want to hear," she said after Biden spoke. "But I think it's true. And the other side does not care as much about the seniors ... because they are — represent wealthy Americans."

It's a message right out of the Obama-Biden playbook.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

As we've heard on the campaign trail and in Washington, D.C., one of the key issues emerging for the fall election is health care. Many Republicans, including all of the party's presidential candidates, want President Obama's health care law overturned. But this week, another development: a House Republican plan emerged to overhaul Medicare. Democrats lost no time in attacking the move, saying that would destroy the program. NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami that one of the Democrats leading the charge is Vice President Joe Biden.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It was Vice President Biden but more than that, it was candidate Joe Biden in Coconut Creek, Florida giving the second in what he promises will be a series of campaign speeches taking aim at Republicans. The place? Wynmoor Village, a large retirement community populated largely by people from the Northeast, like 82-year-old Doris Herman.

DORIS HERMAN: It's a beautiful place. You always have something to do. The people are friendly. The grounds are beautiful.

ALLEN: And for Democrats, there are few places in Florida more welcoming. Residents say there are a few closet Republicans, but more independents. One independent, Ron Goldberg, said he came to see what Biden had to say about the administration's decision delaying the Keystone Excel pipeline project. In that he'd be disappointed. I told him the vice president was expected to be talking about Medicare.

RON GOLDBERG: I'm worried about Medicare for our children, not for me. I'm already there. But will it be there for my kids and grandkids?

ALLEN: That's an idea House Republicans are hoping to capitalize on with their budget. Crafted by House Budget chairman Paul Ryan, it seeks to save more than $200 billion from Medicare over the next 10 years by moving future generations into privately-run health plans. When Ryan first proposed the idea in last year's budget it was panned. This year's version has some important changes: future seniors would have the option of retaining traditional Medicare. Also, because it builds on ideas Ryan developed with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, Republicans are able to claim it's bipartisan. But Vice President Biden told his audience of seniors, don't you believe it.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Make no mistake about it. If the Republicans in Congress and their amen corner of Romney, Santorum and Gingrich - if any one of them get their hands on the White House, the keys to the White House - I promise you, you will see Medicare ended as you know it.

ALLEN: Biden said there's no question the baby boom generation - now moving into retirement age - provides real challenges for Social Security, with the number of seniors doubling by 2040. Biden says faced with those challenges, the nation has a choice: Republicans and Democrats can work together as they have in the past...

BIDEN: Or are we going to use these challenges? It's a real challenge. Are we going to use these challenges as a pretense to do what so many have been trying to do from the beginning - dismantle both of these programs?

ALLEN: That's a message Democrats expect to take to the general election in November, both in the race for the White House and in congressional campaigns. Even before House Republicans voted to adopt the Ryan budget, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rolled out a website, MedicareMadness2012.com The campaign has started running robocalls targeting 41 vulnerable House Republicans. One of them is first-term Congressman from Orlando, Daniel Webster.

REPRESENTATIVE DANIEL WEBSTER: I think the detractors from this budget are thinking about the next election. I think the Republicans in Congress are thinking about the next generation.

ALLEN: Webster says the Ryan budget, with its Medicare overhaul, is an important step toward a balanced budget. This week, Politico reported on a briefing given to House Republicans to help them sell the plan to constituents. Call it bipartisan, they were told, and use phrases like: Fix Medicare and keep it from going bankrupt. In describing the Medicare overhaul, Webster stuck to the script.

WEBSTER: It's a bipartisan Medicare proposal that strengthens it and saves it actually from extinction. And if we don't do something like I said, it's going to go bankrupt. Fixing it now is the key.

ALLEN: Webster is expected to be in a tight race this year. He says the key will be winning over independents. That means reaching people like Arlene Grossman, an independent who listened to Biden at Wynmoor Village. Afterwards, I asked her what she thought.

ARLENE GROSSMAN: Of course he said what the seniors want to hear. But I think it's true. And the other side does not care as much about seniors.

ALLEN: Do you think that's true, that Republicans don't care as much about senior citizens?

GROSSMAN: I do, because they represent wealthy Americans.

ALLEN: It's a message right out of the Obama-Biden playbook. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.