New Republican Assault on Middle Class: Slash Medicaid, Hurt Seniors and Millions in Need

The Republicans in Congress are about to show us their cards, and seniors and middle-class families aren't going to like what they see. At a time when U.S. corporations have taken the biggest profits in the nation's history and corporate taxes are at the lowest levels in generations, the GOP is hatching an appalling scheme to devastate America's seniors and families with $1 trillion in Medicaid cuts.

This Republican plan would desert millions of children, people with disabilities and chronic diseases, and seniors who need help paying for long-term care. It would decimate the working poor and leave hospitals in the poorest neighborhoods without enough money to provide lifesaving care.

The Republicans, led by extremist Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, are also playing a cynical shell game because a federal cut in Medicaid dollars to the states simply passes the buck and gives the states less money -- and that cost-shift will force states to make draconian cuts that hurt the neediest people. And it won't help states meet unanticipated needs, such as an increased demand for services in a recession.

Ryan says he has a "moral obligation" to cut entitlement programs. But is it moral to cut services that help seniors, people with disabilities and middle-class families while giving corporations and the very rich tax breaks at the same time?

These unconscionable budget cuts would also rob our economy of 3 million jobs between 2013 and 2020, and widen the income gap between the super-rich and the rest of us. As Jonathan Chait wrote, this plan is mostly "an attempt to redistribute income upward" - the economic goal of Republicans and their billionaire sponsors. In the private workplace, we've already seen that happen. Corporate CEO compensation jumped another 27 percent last year to a median of $9 million, while overall wages rose only 2.1 percent.

Joblessness and the accompanying loss of health benefits drove 3.7 million more people into Medicaid during the recent economic downturn, proving yet again that the program is a lifeline for our society. Yet the Republicans and the corporate lobbyists want to decimate this safety net when people need it the most.

The cuts envisioned by the GOP would compromise the heart and soul of Medicaid, a program that gives people a chance to get back on their feet when times are tough and is the backbone of critical care for seniors, such as nursing home care. Without a strong Medicaid program, America will turn its back on millions of people with severe mental and physical disabilities who are unable to care for themselves.

Medicaid not only benefits about 60 million people directly, it also relieves family members of the financial burden of providing complex and costly care.

Specifically, Ryan and the Republicans want to turn Medicaid into a block-grant program. In the existing system, state Medicaid programs receive federal matching funds based on the number of people in need and the costs of care in that state.

But recently GOP governors have been agitating to convert those federal Medicaid billions into state block grants - lump sums set in advance and capped. In most instances the Republicans will impose deep cuts to the program - fewer people will be covered and their benefits will be scaled back. As usual, this means the Republicans would balance their budgets on the backs of the people who can least afford it - the elderly, the blind, the disabled, working families and the poor - while letting corporations and the very rich off the hook. That is immoral.

Caring for the Medicaid population with capped funding under the discretionary control of Republican ideologues in state capitals will harm the health of millions, create even larger financial shortfalls in states and force cuts in other core areas, like transportation, education and law enforcement.

And despite the Republican stereotyping of Medicaid recipients, let's remember that two-thirds of every Medicaid dollar goes to help seniors and people with disabilities. And most people in nursing homes are covered by Medicaid. That's one of the many reasons why Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's comment that people on Medicaid are driving BMWs in his state is so ignorant and offensive.

What's more, the block-grant plan would shift hundreds of billions of dollars in costs onto doctors and hospitals, sending private health plan premiums even higher.

The Republicans' plan isn't just an attack on health care - it's a systematic effort to undermine the economic security of all of America's families. No one should have to worry about their health care, and Medicaid is a hugely important avenue for people of all backgrounds to access critical services. The GOP's plan will tear apart the infrastructure of health care that is central to Americia's seniors and its poor and middle-class families.

In these tough times when we need shared sacrifice, smart government and job creation, the Republican plan to cut Medicaid accomplishes none of these things. It only makes matters worse. The Republicans' plan to cut Medicare too, turning it into a "voucher" system where you get coupons instead of insurance coverage, is also a very bad idea that will hurt seniors and eliminate Medicare as we know it.

I know it's naïve, but why not start cutting where the real money is instead of hurting average Americans? Until the Republicans ask corporations and the very rich to pay their fair share, they have no business asking the rest of us for anything.