Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin was one of five Senate Democrats -- all of whom are up for reelection next year -- to sign a letter to Vice President Joe Biden asking that the Republican plan to overhaul Medicare be taken off the table as part of the ongoing White House deficit talks.
The Medicare proposal, crafted by House Republican Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan and passed by the House in April, would provide seniors federal subsidies to purchase private health insurance -- a change that would save money by requiring seniors to pay a higher share of their healthcare costs.
Democrats have attacked the idea for weeks and have already used the issue once successfully as a campaign theme to win a special election in New York last month. At the same time, Democrats -- including President Barack Obama -- have acknowledged that entitlement reform of some kind will be necessary to address the nation's debt.
"This proposal would never pass Congress on its own, and it does not belong in a larger deal either," Cardin and the other Democrats wrote Biden. "It would be devastating for America's seniors, who would see their out-of-pocket costs for health care double and the benefits they currently enjoy jeopardized."
Biden is leading a series of closed-door negotiations with a bipartisan group of lawmakers intended to find a compromise on federal spending that can clear the way for Congress to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit by August. It's not clear that the GOP Medicare proposal has been a part of those discussions.
The other Democratic senators who signed the letter include Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Bill Nelson of Florida.
The full letter follows:
Dear Vice President Biden,
It has come to our attention that the bipartisan working group you are leading is making considerable progress in identifying ways to reduce the deficit. We are encouraged by the progress being made in these negotiations and stand ready to work with you towards the passage of a responsible deficit reduction package that will set our nation on a healthy fiscal course.
But as the working group moves beyond areas of consensus and into parts of the budget that will require the toughest choices, we wish to identify in advance one proposal that we cannot support in any form—the House-passed plan to dismantle Medicare.
As you know, the House-passed budget would end Medicare as we know it by destroying the guaranteed-benefit system and instead requiring seniors to enter the private insurance market. Despite the public's overwhelming rejection of this proposal, and even after the Senate vote against it last week, many top congressional leaders are now saying they want the plan included as part of a package to reduce the deficit. Just last week, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan declared that the plan to dismantle Medicare is "part of the debt ceiling talks." Then on Sunday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell echoed that it is "on the table."
This proposal would never pass Congress on its own, and it does not belong in a larger deal either. It would be devastating for America's seniors, who would see their out-of-pocket costs for health care double and the benefits they currently enjoy jeopardized. Under this risky proposal, insurance company bureaucrats would decide what care seniors get.
We are aware the administration has rejected this proposal since its passage by the House, and we applaud your efforts to educate the American people about its serious implications. We encourage you to remain unwavering in opposition to this scheme. For the good of the nation's seniors, it must remain off the table.
We share the goal of ensuring the long-term health of Medicare. We hope to identify delivery system reforms and other sources of savings that can extend the life of Medicare in its current form. But we will never allow any effort to dismantle the program and force benefit cuts upon seniors under the guise of deficit reduction. Our nation's seniors are not responsible for the fiscal challenges we face, and they should not be responsible for shouldering the burden of reducing our deficits.
Thank you again for your leadership in these budget talks and for your continued work standing up on behalf of the nation's seniors.
Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Sherrod Brown
Senator Claire McCaskill
Senator Jon Tester
Senator Bill Nelson