Senior and provider groups are angry that Medicare cuts will help pay for one of the trade bills that Congress will soon consider and are waging a last-ditch effort to nix the cuts.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance reauthorization bill hasn’t received as much attention as the fast-track trade authority bill, but Democrats see it as a priority: The program helps workers who have been put out of a job because of foreign trade with job-training and placement as well as health-insurance costs. The House and Senate are expected to move the bill in tandem with the fast-track trade measure, said an aide to Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who hashed out the trade deal with Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Paul Ryan, both Republicans.
But on Tuesday, senior and provider groups started criticizing the proposal. They’re unhappy because about $700 million of the $2.9 billion cost would be offset by increasing the cuts to Medicare authorized by the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration in fiscal year 2024 by 0.25 percent, according to a Congressional Budget Office score of the House bill.
“Apparently using Medicare as a piggy bank to pay for everything under the sun has become the new legislative norm for Congress,” Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said in a statement to National Journal. “Rather than balancing priorities or considering a penny of new revenue, congressional leaders are proposing to once again funnel Medicare resources into unrelated programs and fixes—this time it’s the trade adjustment assistance program.”
A coalition of provider groups, including the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, sent a letter to senators Tuesday opposing the bill.
“Hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, and home health and hospice providers have already absorbed hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicare program in recent years,” they wrote. “Additionally alarming is the use of Medicare cuts to pay for non-Medicare-related legislation, a precedent that we believe is unwise.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner is working on an alternative proposal to replace the Medicare cuts, his spokesman Kevin Hall said. His proposal would try to recuperate more money from real-estate taxes by ramping up reporting requirements. The Senate Finance Committee will mark up the bill Wednesday.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the news apparently hadn’t made the rounds in the Democratic Senate caucus, some members of which are already skeptical of the broader trade deal. Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who has been a proponent of reauthorizing TAA, was surprised when told Medicare cuts are set to help pay for the bill.
“We’re still working through all of this. We need a strong bill that supports retraining for people who have lost their jobs,” she said. “I certainly don’t support Medicare cuts “¦ so we’ll have to take a look at that.”