Senators on Thursday who were debating changes to a budget draft revived many of the healthcare battles they waged in recent months as Republicans sought to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced an amendment during a Senate Budget Committee markup that called to preserve Obamacare and for Republicans to scrap efforts on an overhaul bill, known as Graham-Cassidy.
“The American people have seen this bad movie before and they don’t like it,” he said.
Other amendments introduced by Democrats were aimed at preserving funding for Medicare and Medicaid. Throughout the hearing, they invoked the Republican attempts at overhauling Obamacare from earlier this year, citing critics of the bills and Congressional Budget Office reports as evidence of what would happen under the budget plan.
The 10-year proposal, they said, would cut funding from Medicare and Medicaid while providing tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans.
In a document prepared by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is the committee’s top-ranking member, Democrats and independents said the Republican budget proposal announced last week would slash Medicare spending by $473 billion and Medicaid by $1 trillion over a decade. The Medicare figure compares the spending planned for Medicare of $8.059 trillion with the $8.532 trillion that CBO estimates the program will cost during the next decade. Sanders noted that during his race to the White House, President Trump had promised not to cut the programs.
“These are cuts that will kill people, these are cuts that would hurt people and these are cuts that should not be allowed to take place,” the Vermont independent said.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., also invoked similarities between the Obamacare bills and the budget, saying that such cuts threatened programs for people in nursing homes and for people receiving treatment for opioid addiction.
But the budget resolution, which is considered a wish list, has not detailed which programs would be targeted for spending cuts.
Stil, Republicans defended themselves from the attacks Thursday, saying that potential cuts should be framed through the lens of reduced spending growth in the programs so that they could be sustainable in the long run. Tackling spending on the entitlement programs, which cover adults 65 and older as well as low-income and disabled people, is a GOP goal as the party seeks to set the stage for tax reform. Together, Medicare and Medicaid make up a quarter of the federal budget.
“We’re focused on preserving the Medicaid program for those who need it most,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, chairman of the Budget Committee.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., argued that the growth in spending should not be reduced because spending needs to match the growth in the population of older adults as baby boomers age in to the program.
“Most people plan when they see a tsunami come,” he said.
One Republican amendment was similar to an issue raised during the Obamacare debate. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., proposed a work requirement amendment for people who use programs such as Medicaid. The requirement to work or volunteer for 20 hours a week would not apply to people who are over 55, have children or are disabled.
“In order to maintain these programs they have to maintain fiscal integrity,” Kennedy said. “The best way is to help people who need that help get in a position where they don’t need that help.”