South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

GOP’s deficit plan ‘misses the boat,’ Carnahan says

Medicare should be left alone, Carnahan tells senior group.
U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan shakes hands with an audience member after speaking last week to nearly 40 residents and guests at the Bethesda Terrace retirement community. Evan Young photo
U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan shakes hands with an audience member after speaking last week to nearly 40 residents and guests at the Bethesda Terrace retirement community. Evan Young photo

While both Democrats and Republicans have put forward “serious” proposals for reducing the federal deficit, the latter party’s plan “misses the boat,” U.S. Rep Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, said last week.

Carnahan addressed nearly 40 residents and guests June 21 at the Bethesda Terrace retirement community in Oakville.

The focus of the roughly hour-long visit was to highlight the effects of budget discussions in Washington, D.C., on senior citizens.

Specifically, Carnahan voiced his opposition to the proposed Medicare overhaul within the budget plan presented by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

The plan, titled “The Path to Prosperity,” would in part change the government health insurance program into a system of “premium-support payments” and gradually increase the eligibility age to 67 from 65 in an effort to keep Medicare solvent.

Americans currently enrolled in Medicare or who will become eligible in the next 10 years would remain with with the traditional program under the budget plan. Beginning in 2022, though, the government would give new Medicare beneficiaries subsidies to purchase private health insurance plans.

Critics of the “Ryan Plan,” like Carnahan, contend those “premium support payments,” which would be tied to the Consumer Price Index, would not keep up with rising health care and insurance costs.

As a result, critics contend, seniors would experience a heavier out-of-pocket burden and may end up buying health care coverage that’s less comprehensive than what’s offered by traditional Medicare.

Carnahan said last week he’d prefer Medicare be left alone and legislators look elsewhere for deficit reduction.

“I think we’ve really got to talk about our priorities and with the limited resources we have, how best can we put those to use?” he said. “And should the biggest oil companies at a time when they’re making record profits continue to get $50 billion in subsidies from taxpayers at the same time people are talking about cutting benefits for Medicare?

“To me that’s an easy choice. But those are the kinds of things we need to weigh.”

Carnahan said he’s optimistic Republicans and Democrats eventually will find common ground in budget talks because both parties agree that deficit reduction is important.

“It’s not a question of if we’re going to have a plan for serious deficit reduction; it’s only a question really of how much,” he said. “Both sides have serious proposals on the table, and I think we’ll find some common ground. And I’m hopeful that in this next week or so we’re going to have a compromise that we can look and see if we’ll go forward with.”

Following his appearance, Carnahan told the Call he hopes that compromise is “balanced” and reduces the deficit “gradually” in a way that doesn’t hinder job growth.

“(W)ith regard to the Republican-Ryan plan, large numbers of economists have expressed concern about how drastic the cuts are and how some of the cuts are landing on some of the people that are the most needy — like seniors — to really ending the Medicare program as we know it by giving people just a voucher and they’re responsible for anything else,” he said. “Yet we’re leaving in place $50 billion in subsidies that oil companies are getting now to drill at a time when they’re making record profits and don’t need it.”

Asked if he thought there were any cost savings to be found in Medicare, Carnahan said, “I think the thing that everybody can agree on is that there continue to be some areas of waste and overlap and abuse within the system that can be tightened up, but it’s an absolutely vital program for so many seniors and for their health care. So I think I would put that in the ‘vital’ category, whereas subsidies for oil companies that don’t need it, tax breaks for companies that are sending jobs overseas — we shouldn’t give those.

“And as some of our military leaders have said, there’s some cost savings from bringing our troops home from these wars overseas,” he added. “Those are areas where I think we can be saving money, and that money can be placed into vital programs.”

In an unrelated matter, Carnahan last week fielded a pair of questions from Bethesda residents on the topic to which his political future is tied: redistricting.

State lawmakers earlier this year drew up a new map of congressional districts, a process required after every census. Sluggish population growth caused Missouri to lose a district, and it was Carnahan’s 3rd District that wound up on the chopping block.

The new congressional-district map survived a veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and tentatively will be implemented beginning next year. However, Carnahan told his Bethesda audience the issue appears headed to court.

“We hear that there may be a court challenge to the maps, so we’re going to be watching — obviously with great interest — to see what happens with that,” he said. “The process may not be done until the courts are done reviewing what the Legislature has done.”

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