Expect to hear a lot about the House GOP’s budget blueprint going into next year’s elections, particularly in Arizona, Nevada and wherever else Republican representatives hope to make the jump to the U.S. Senate
House Republicans used their superior numbers to pass the legislation. It would trim more than $6 trillion from annual deficits over the coming decade. The savings will come largely from safety net programs such as food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare.
No Democratic lawmaker voted for the bill. Nor is the Senate likely to take up anything resembling the measure. Still, the political ramifications were evident moments after last week’s vote.
Officials with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee singled out Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Dean Heller of Nevada for waging “war on seniors by voting to end Medicare.” Both are running for the U.S. Senate next year.
The changes to Medicare would not affect current retirees. Starting in 2022, new retirees would have to get their coverage through private plans with the Medicare program heavily subsidizing the cost. Under the current system, the federal government directly reimburses health care providers for services rendered.
The vote is being characterized by Democrats as attempting to end “Medicare as we know it.” Flake said he isn’t worried about the coming political attacks that are sure to come. Indeed, he said he hoped that the budget developed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin becomes a hot-button issue in his race.
“They understand the current path is unsustainable,” Flake said of elderly voters. “They understand that the Ryan budget doesn’t affect current seniors but it does preserve the system for their kids and grandkids. If they try to scare seniors, it’s going to backfire.”
Democratic officials don’t yet have a candidate for the Senate race in Arizona. But Sen. Patty Murray, DSCC chairwoman, said she believes the state is a potential pickup for Democrats now that Sen. Jon Kyl is retiring. She said that the GOP budget poses a fairness question for voters because it reduces funding for safety net programs while cutting tax rates for wealthier Americans.
“This is a real dagger in the heart of a lot of American families who want to know that security is there,” Murray said. “Right now, what we see is a Republican Party not focused again on debt and deficit, but focused on eliminating some of the basic services that families count on in this country to be secure.”
The vote on the GOP budget gave Nevada voters an early preview of the many differences that Rep. Shelley Berkley and Heller will present over the coming months. The two are running to succeed Sen. John Ensign and will face off in the state’s general election if they both win in the state’s primary.
Berkley said she understands the need for fiscal discipline, “but you don’t do it on the backs of your most vulnerable citizens.”
While people currently in Medicare would not be part of the new system, Berkley is confident they’re overwhelmingly opposed to the idea anyway.
“Medicare and Social Security are sacrosanct. I believe that any attempt at privatizing or voucherizing is going to be met with a very decided thump,” Berkley said.
Heller said in a press release he voted for the bill because failing to curb government spending would lead to higher taxes and fewer jobs down the road.
“The federal government must stop spending money we don’t have,” Heller said.
Only four Republicans voted against the bill. One of them is running for the U.S. Senate in Montana and clearly had elderly voters in mind when he cast his vote. Rep. Denny Rehberg said there were too many unanswered questions concerning the bill’s effect on Medicare. The vote represented a rare split for Rehberg from his Republican colleagues.