As Republicans target America's social safety net, a top Democrat is now urging colleagues to join the fight, describing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as "winners."
Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Co-Chair of the House Task Force on Seniors, spoke with reporters today to mark the 47th anniversary of Medicare. She said, "If everybody took a deep breath and looked at the reality of how this is going to help them and their families, this is a great issue for us to campaign on."
Schakowsky is spot on. And it's refreshing to see at least some Democrats paying attention to the intriguing special election results last month in Arizona. Democrat Ron Barber focused hard on protecting social programs and easily fended off a strong Republican challenge in the swing district previously represented by Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
The backbone emerging in the Democratic Party comes at an important time. It was 47 years ago this week when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law. The legislation represented a monumental leap forward in how Americans treated one another. At the time, half of seniors did not have any health insurance. And those seniors who did have insurance paid three times what younger people paid for their care despite having, on average, just half as much income.
This week, in honor of Medicare's birthday, a coalition of 300 national and state organizations known as the Strengthen Social Security campaign announced the release of a new series of reports, "Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid Work for America." The reports show the clear value and benefits these programs provide in every state, as well as the raw numbers and demographics of people whose lives have literally been saved thanks to America's social safety net.
Thankfully, the "Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid Work for America" reports aren't getting overlooked. The data are being released in over a dozen states where seniors' groups, such as the Alliance for Retired Americans, have events planned in honor of Medicare's birthday, including in the election battlegrounds of Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Reports for the remainder of the 50 states and the District of Columbia will be released on or before Social Security's 77th birthday on Aug. 14. "These are issues that should be front and center in Democratic campaigns," said Schakowsky. "Republicans want to weaken or end all three programs.
Schakowsky insists that running as defenders of Medicare and Social Security does not contradict the politically popular message of fiscal responsibility. "Social Security ... everyone acknowledges has absolutely nothing to do with the deficit," she noted.
On Medicare, Schakowsky urged Democrats to tout the cost-saving Medicare reforms in the Affordable Care Act as evidence of fiscal responsibility that also improves the quality of and access to health care. "We made many improvements in Medicare that are going to save lots of money, something the Republicans do not want to acknowledge," she said. "This is a golden moment for people to take another look at the new health care proposals that are done under the Affordable Care Act." Indeed, the ACA makes prescription drugs more affordable for seniors and allows preventative care without co-pays, just one of the many crucial improvements that will also save the system money.
And yet, many Democrats are still convinced that electoral success requires a "grand bargain" with Republicans on social programs, such as the "Simpson-Bowles" plan. I don't think it's an election winner to embrace cutting Social Security benefits for today's young and middle-aged Americans by 19 percent, as Simpson-Bowles would do, according to estimates by the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration. And never mind the cuts to younger Americans -- the plan would also cut the Social Security COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) for current beneficiaries through the adoption of the chained CPI (consumer price index).
Congresswoman Schakowsky was a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission and voted against the co-chairs' plan. She knows that it would be bad policy to cut Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, and even worse politics. Democrats should follow her lead: Instead of running away from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, they should run toward the programs and vow to protect them. It's an approach that will win in November and strengthen our society.
Follow David Shuster on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@davidshuster