07/14/2011 04:49 pm ET Updated Sep 13, 2011

A False Choice

We are on the brink of a crisis like nothing we've ever seen.

In three weeks, Congress will be faced with a choice: come to a sensible agreement with the president on how to address our deficit, or allow America to default on its debt, ruining our fragile economy, eliminating jobs and destroying our global credit.

What is truly heart-wrenching about this crisis is that we brought it on ourselves. And now, rather than rallying together to solve a common problem, the right wing is embracing recklessness as a political tactic.

Simply put, they are willing to risk the honor of the United States and the well-being of every single American to try to impose an extreme agenda that flies in the face of not only common sense but common decency.

As so often happens in times of economic struggle, it is programs that help the neediest among us -- seniors, children, people with disabilities -- that end up in the crosshairs. And this time, unfortunately, is no different.

Conservatives are demanding huge cuts to Medicaid in exchange for even talking about how to solve our debt crisis. This vital program may suffer billions upon billions of dollars in cuts. In fact, the House of Representatives has proposed, on a strictly partisan basis, to cut $1.4 trillion -- that's trillion, not million or billion -- from Medicaid and Medicare between 2012 and 2021.

In proposing these reckless cuts, Republicans would take away home-based care for seniors, forcing them out of their homes in their golden years. They would prevent seniors who need nursing home care from being able to afford it. And they would stop sick children from seeing a doctor if their family has no other coverage.

Incredibly, this proposal won't even cut health care costs. Instead, it merely shifts the burden of costs onto the shoulders of state governments. However, states can't handle that burden and, hence, will undoubtedly cut care for seniors and people with disabilities needing nursing home and other long-term care, and for sick children who need to see a doctor.

It makes no sense to cut the health lifeline for seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income children. It makes even less sense to cut federal spending in a way that does nothing to rein in health costs but merely shifts those costs onto the shoulders of those who cannot bear them.

To the extent that savings are to be achieved, there are a multitude of other options available. Billions of dollars can be trimmed from our deficit if right-wing congressional members would agree to eliminate tax breaks for corporate jets, or huge giveaways to Big Oil, or loopholes that allow companies like General Electric to pay $0 in federal taxes despite growing corporate profit.

Of course, there are changes to the health care system that can both improve health care quality and reduce our deficit. For instance, we can improve efficiency through better care coordination (for example, coordination between Medicare and Medicaid for people participating in both programs), as well as lower drug costs for these vulnerable people.

Such program coordination has now been started by the Obama administration, and the president is also proposing lower drug costs.

Instead, unfortunately, Republican leaders want the onus to be placed on middle-class and moderate-income families. As a result, they are making outrageously false claims, like the brazen assertion that Medicaid is "worse than having no coverage at all." They persist in these falsehoods despite concrete evidence that the program ensures that the most vulnerable among us receive critical preventive and primary care, can find and keep a regular doctor, seek medical care more often and are considerably less depressed and more financially stable.

Cutting Medicaid -- especially through cost shifts to states that ultimately fray the lifeline for seniors, children and people with disabilities -- makes no sense. We should strengthen America's economy in a fair and balanced way, and Medicaid cost shifts to people who can't bear those costs are precisely the wrong direction for our nation.