Northwest lawmakers split along party lines Thursday as the House approved a Medicare reform package.
Republicans say the changes are needed to save the system. Democrats say the proposal would devastate health care for senior citizens.
“It is true there are changes that should take place in Medicare. But it’s like I have a toenail problem and along comes a surgeon and takes your entire leg off,” said Rep. Elizabeth Furse, D-Ore.
“We will see some real impacts on real people.”
The package calls for $270 billion in Medicare cuts over seven years - cuts Republicans say are needed to keep the whole program from collapsing.
Freshman Rep. Randy Tate, R-Wash., said Thursday was “truly an historic day.
“This is not just about getting through the next election. We are saving Medicare for the next generation as well,” Tate said.
“We can go home and look seniors in the eye and say we preserved and protected Medicare not only for them but also for their children and their grandchildren,” he said.
Tate was among Republicans targeted by consumer-health-group advertisements that accused the bill’s supporters of turning their backs on the elderly.
“There has been a very well-financed misinformation campaign against me and through our state - lying, distorting the truth, scaring senior citizens,” Tate said in an interview Thursday.
“We’ve been honest. The fact is Medicare would go broke in seven years,” he said.
Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., said the cuts actually are reductions in the rate of spending increases. If the bill becomes law, Medicare spending would increase by 54 percent over seven years, she said.
“Contrary to the truly disingenuous claims of opponents, not one thin dime is being cut out of the Medicare system,” Dunn said. “There is no shortage of compassion in our plan.”
Freshman Rep. Rick White, R-Wash., said special-interest groups spent more than $200,000 in his district to try to defeat the reform effort.
“But their scare tactics have not worked,” White said. “They have not worked because no matter how much money is spent on attack ads, one fact remains clear - Medicare will be bankrupt in seven years and the system must be reformed to ensure that our seniors receive the coverage they need.”
Democrats said Republicans would use the Medicare savings to finance tax breaks for the wealthy, rather than pumping the money back into the Medicare system.
“Medicare yes. Tax break no,” chanted demonstrators at a labor-organized rally outside the Capitol.
Most were members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on their lunch hour. Two were tourists from Friday Harbor, Wash.
“We feel very strongly about this issue and saw this demonstration and decided to join in,” said one of the visitors, Liz Pillow, who described herself as part of the “sandwich generation.” “We are raising children and we also have parents to take care of.”
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., a medical doctor and psychiatrist, pushed unsuccessfully for an alternative that would have cut Medicare by $90 billion over seven years.”