Herrera Beutler defends her vote for House budget

Medicare won’t exist in 10 years if it isn’t restructured, she said

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler defended her vote Friday for a 2012 House budget that would transform Medicare.

Without a fundamental restructuring, she said, the federal health coverage for seniors won’t be there 10 years from now, when today’s 55-year-olds become eligible for coverage.

“I’m not getting rid of Medicare,” the Republican freshman from Camas told The Columbian. “People have paid for this all their lives. But the president said two days ago that if we don’t change Medicare, we won’t be able to make our commitments. He was saying that in nine years, if we don’t do something, Medicare will be bankrupt.”

Herrera Beutler acknowledged that her vote in favor of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s sweeping spending blueprint for the next 10 years will be a campaign issue next year when she runs for a second term.

“I made pledges and commitments,” she said. “I will get hit from every side.”

“It’s an unfortunate vote,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz. “She voted against her constituents and for wealthy families somewhere in America. This is a vote to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid and give more tax breaks to rich people and have retired people in her district pay for it.”

Ryan’s budget bill would replace today’s Medicare program with what has been widely described as a voucher system, which would provide seniors with federal money and allow them to buy their own coverage in the private health insurance market. The independent Congressional Budget Office has predicted that health care costs for seniors would more than double under the plan, and Ryan acknowledged on Fox News that it would shift more of the burden of health care costs to seniors.

Herrera Beutler disagreed that the plan would create a voucher system. “It’s premium support,” she said — similar to today’s Medicare Advantage plans and the health coverage members of Congress enjoy, which allow them to choose from a range of plans that fit their needs.

“Medicare Advantage is the demonstration program,” she said. “Thirty-seven percent of seniors in Southwest Washington have chosen that option. … We’ll drive down costs throughout the entire Medicare system.”

However, a 2009 report to Congress by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission found that the federal government pays private insurance companies on average 14 percent more for providing coverage to Medicare Advantage beneficiaries than it would pay for the same beneficiary in the traditional Medicare program.

The commission also found that seniors often end up spending more out-of-pocket under Medicare Advantage plans, and that the higher payments do not lead to a higher level of care.

Ryan’s plan would leave Medicare as it is for those 55 or older.

“I’m not going to touch current seniors,” Herrera Beutler said. “I’m committed to saving the program for future generations. It will change if we do this; it will change if we don’t do this.”

The congresswoman also defended Ryan budget’s proposal to lower the highest tax bracket in the federal tax code from 35 percent to 25 percent, a change that would produce a huge tax windfall for the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.

“I pledged in the campaign that I won’t raise taxes and I’m going to hold to that,” she said.

Seventy-five percent of small-business owners file their federal taxes as individuals and would benefit from the tax reduction, she said. “I’m not interested in hitting the small businesses, because those are the ones that create jobs.”

On the other hand, Herrera Beutler said she was “furious” to learn that some of the nation’s largest corporations, including General Electric, pay virtually no federal taxes. She said the Ryan budget closes many tax loopholes enjoyed by those corporations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed Friday that Ryan’s House budget bill would never pass the Senate.

Other budget issues

On other budget and spending issues, Herrera Beutler said:

• She supported the continuing budget resolution the House and Senate passed Thursday to keep the federal government running through Oct. 1 even though it didn’t cut spending as deeply as she had hoped.

“Would I have liked more? Absolutely,” she said. “I voted yes on principle. I got to take part in the largest actual (federal budget) cut since World War II.”

• She voted to defund Democrats’ Affordable Care Act, even though if that actually happened, benefits already flowing to families, small businesses and seniors under the health reform law could be interrupted.

Republicans have their own health reform plan, she said. “It’s not an either-or. The Democrats’ bill said everyone pays more and then we’ll pick the people to give the tax breaks to.”

• She’s not 100 percent satisfied with the Ryan bill. She’d like to see more cuts in the Pentagon budget, and she’s concerned about proposed steep reductions in federal Pell grants for college students.

• She hasn’t made up her mind whether she’ll vote to raise the federal debt ceiling when the issue comes before Congress, possibly as soon as next month.

“I either want to see major reductions and controls on spending or some seismic shift in the way money is spent” before she’ll vote to raise the debt limit, she said. “I don’t know what that looks like for me. I haven’t seen anything yet that would cause me to raise the nation’s credit card limit.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.