President Obama has erected what is likely to be the left flank in the debates of the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—the so-called “super-committee” that will define so much of this fall’s fiscal and economic discourse.
That flank is sturdier than some of the president’s critics on the left might feared it might be. But the flank is weak, very weak, in at least one key area: the defense of Medicare and Medicaid.
So what’s the balance that progressives should strike with regard to the speech? Let’s consider:
President Obama wants wealthy Americans to pay a little bit more.
President Obama rejects House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan’s schemes to turn Medicare and Medicaid into voucher programs that shift money away from carrying for the needy and toward the accounts of private insurers.
President Obama rejects, at least for the time being, the prospect of increasing the Medicare eligibility age that he put on the table several months ago.
But President Obama was still compromising with the Tea Party right when he delivered his remarks on Monday. Indeed, he proposed $580 billion in cuts to health and welfare programs, with $248 billion coming from Medicare and $72 billion from Medicaid.
The president would have us believe that the cuts can be made by addressing “waste, fraud and abuse.” The reality is that cutting a quarter-trillion dollars from Medicare will undermine the quality of care for seniors and the disabled. The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care estimates that Obama’s approach would lead to $42 billion in cuts for post-acute care providers “placing patients, our workforce and local facilities at risk.”
The proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid will put new stress on the economy by making it harder to maintain hiring levels at the skilled nursing facilities that have been some of the real job creators in a period of layoffs and rising unemployment rates.
The proposed Medicare and Medicaid cuts place new stresses on working families, many of which are already struggling to care for elderly and disabled relatives.