(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) joined a group of fellow Democrats Tuesday in telling Republicans to leave Medicaid and Medicare out of spending-cut decisions.
"Medicaid supports even middle-class families," Harkin said. "Say they have a child with Down syndrome or autism. Medicaid comes in and helps. And these can be middle-class families that are working. Now, they're not making a lot of money, but they're working. They may be making minimum wage or slightly over that, OK, but Medicaid comes in and permits them to be able to go to work and yet get the kind of care they need for a disabled child."
Harkin's prescription for reducing Medicaid funding is "very easy," he said: "Put people back to work. You get people back to work and get people more jobs, your Medicaid funding is going to come down. There are people in this country who've been out of work -- millions -- longer than six months, a year. And they rely on this. They get those jobs back and they start making an income, they won't need Medicaid any longer because then they'll be able to go into the exchanges in the Affordable Care Act and get the coverage that they need."
According to Harkin, the "real issue" in the fiscal cliff debate "is the need for the most fortunate and wealthy Americans to pay more in their share of taxes."
Medicaid and Medicare can be discussed "later," he said.
Republicans say tax hikes alone will simply give politicians more money to spend, driving the nation deeper into debt. Republicans say a truly balanced approach, which President Obama repeatedly mentions, must include changes to the three major entitlement programs, which account for about 44 percent of the federal budget, according to the Heritage Foundation.