VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — President Joe Biden is using the leadup to the release of his proposed budget next week to sketch a dire picture of what could happen to U.S. health care if congressional Republicans had their way with federal spending.
The Democratic president went to Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Tuesday to discuss potential GOP efforts to cut spending on health care, part of a broader presidential push this week to draw a strong contrast between his administration’s priorities and those of Republicans.
“The bottom line is this: Congressional Republicans have committed themselves to very deep cuts to programs that tens of millions of Americans count on,” Aviva Aron-Dine, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said before Biden’s planned remarks at a recreation center. “And the president believes that they owe the American people transparency about what that will mean, and if they won’t provide it, he will.”
Biden is expected to build on that message in a meeting with House Democrats in Baltimore on Wednesday and before Senate Democrats on Thursday. The effort to highlight major differences with Republicans comes as Biden is expected to launch a reelection campaign this spring.
Rep. Jen Kiggans, the GOP congresswoman from Virginia Beach, said that Biden is coming to spread “partisan rumors,” since Republican lawmakers have ruled out cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
“The president has shown that his talk of bipartisanship is simply political theatre,” said Kiggans, who has worked as a geriatric nurse. “Healthcare should never be used as a partisan publicity stunt.”
The president is due to release his budget plan on March 9, promising to trim the national debt by $2 trillion over 10 years without cuts to spending on Democratic priorities like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Biden has challenged House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to publicly issue his own budget proposal. McCarthy is insisting on spending cuts to balance the budget, but he has yet to provide any specifics.
In the absence of a specific GOP plan, Biden administration officials are sketching worst-case scenarios for what Republicans might do, based on past statements, including what the White House warns could be deep cuts to Medicaid, which covers roughly 84 million people and has grown by 20 million since January 2020, just before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Deep cuts to Medicaid would mean worse coverage, or loss of coverage,” Aron-Dine said, and that would include older adults, people with disabilities and families with children. “There is no overstating how disruptive” cuts would be to the overall healthcare system, she added.
Administration officials also said potential cuts to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act could jeopardize coverage for more than 100 million people with preexisting medical conditions and imperil free preventative care and cut back prescription drug coverage.
However, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Biden in the White House, there is virtually no chance of major GOP health care legislation being enacted.
There are some Republican lawmakers who want to repeal Biden’s 2022 climate change and health care law, known as the Inflation Reduction Act. The law capped insulin costs at $35 per month for older adults on Medicare and enabled the government insurance program to negotiate on prescription drug prices. It also beefed up funding for the IRS and created incentives to move away from fossil fuels.
A majority of adults in the U.S. already say that health care is not handled well in the country, according to a poll last fall from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
And about two-thirds of adults think it is the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all people have health care coverage, with adults ages 18 to 49 more likely than those over 50 to hold that view. The percentage of people who believe health care coverage is a government responsibility has risen in recent years, ticking up from 57% in 2017 and 62% in 2019.
And about half of U.S. adults think that Medicare and Medicaid should play a larger role in paying for living assistance. But that would mean more government funding, not less.
Looming over the budget debate is a statutory limit on the government’s borrowing authority, which could be breached this summer when extraordinary accounting steps being taken by the Treasury Department to keep the government operating are exhausted.
Biden has said the debt limit should be raised without conditions because it reflects previous spending commitments while McCarthy is pushing for negotiations on the debt that would include spending cuts.
White House officials are trying to draw attention to the lack of an overall blueprint from the GOP. Republican leaders kept their distance from an earlier proposal by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., that would have left Social Security and Medicare up for renewal every five years, along with other federal programs. Scott has now revised his plan to exempt Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans benefits and other essential services.
Biden hammered the issue during his State of the Union address this month.