Seventy-three-year-old Elayne Hyman Risley lives in East Brunswick on a fixed income. She had three surgeries in the past couple years. She’s worried that the Republican tax reform bill could trigger billions in federal budget cuts, including a $25 billion cut to Medicare, her literal lifeline.
“It angers me, because nobody knows what’s going to come in the future,” said Risley. “Medicare is not going to be enough to see me through any kind of medical emergencies. If there are cutbacks in Medicare, and the Medigap carrier has to absorb the difference, the premium’s going to go up. Not by hundreds, but by thousands, and that makes me angry.”
Risley joined a group of politicians and advocates for the elderly from Middlesex County who expressed concerns to Rep. Frank Pallone about the pending crisis. The GOP tax cuts add $1.5 trillion to the deficit, but congressional pay-as-you-go, or PAYGO, laws say that must be balanced with spending cuts, an estimated $130 billion worth in 2018. That could slash programs across the board. And even though the law restricts Medicare cuts to $25 billion, it could burden already-stressed seniors struggling to pay for health care, officials said.
“Some of those people cannot afford their medication. And let me tell you what happens when you can’t afford your medication, you die. That’s the way it is,” said Jim Bullard, a councilman from Piscataway.
“So I don’t get it. I don’t understand how they are so lacking in response to the public and kind of saying to the public, ‘We don’t give a damn,'” said Pallone.
Republican Tom MacArthur, the only New Jersey congressman to vote ‘yes’ on the tax bill, said he would “… fight to protect these benefits for seniors. This is more dishonest fear mongering from Democrats on an issue that is too important to play politics with.”
But Republican Speaker Paul Ryan explained on The Ross Kaminsky show, a radio show in Denver, earlier this month that cutting so-called entitlements is job one next year.
“So we’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit. But you have two things you’ve got to do: reform entitlement programs, grow the economy. And frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt. So we spend more of our time on health care entitlements, because that’s where the problem lies, fiscally-speaking,” said Ryan.
A spending resolution that will be introduced later this week to keep the government operating will reportedly offer Congress a chance to waive the automatic cuts triggered by PAYGO. But at least 189 House Democrats, including Pallone, say they will not vote for it because it raises defense spending and undercuts Obamacare.
“All this is going to be in this continuing resolution. It won’t be a clean one. It’ll have all of these things that are objectionable to me and most Democrats, and then they’ll throw in the PAYGO waiver,” said Pallone.
But first, Congress must vote on tax reform. A new Monmouth University poll shows 47 percent of Americans surveyed disapprove of the tax reform bills, while 26 percent approve. Eight percent want to wait and 19 percent have no opinion, according to a Monmouth University poll released Monday.
The tax bill vote’s expected to come Tuesday. Republicans say they’ve got the support they require to pass the measure.