House, Senate Democrats: No Deal If It Involves Medicare or Medicaid Reforms

By Matt Cover | December 11, 2012 | 4:10pm EST

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) AP Photo

( – Senior House and Senate Democrats said that they were opposed to any fiscal cliff deal that would cut Medicare or Medicaid, telling the White House and House Republicans they opposed any plan that would cut federal health care programs.

“We’re not budging on Medicare, and we’re not budging on Medicaid,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said at a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday.

Rockefeller said that he was “nervous” about the secret talks taking place between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), because they might result in a deal where cuts to health care entitlements are traded for high tax rates on wealthier Americans – a deal Rockefeller called “amoral.”

“I get nervous when two people disappear into a White House room and start making a grand alliance and they go ‘well, we’re going to do this to rich, and we’re going to do that to the poor, so we’ll just make that tradeoff’ and as [Sen.] Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) says that is amoral. It’s amoral. You cannot do it,” Rockefeller said.

Harkin himself summed up the message of House and Senate Democrats by telling fiscal cliff negotiators to “keep your hands off” Medicare and Medicaid.

“We’ve basically come here this morning to say one thing: To all these negotiators who are now negotiating on this so-called fiscal cliff, keep your hands off Medicare, and keep your hands off Medicaid.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) called Medicaid cuts a “human rights issue,” saying that any fiscal cliff deal that included cuts to the program would be unacceptable.

“There’s a reason that Medicaid was protected from sequestration – this program is truly a lifeline for those in need, and we in this room will do everything in our power to protect it,” Cummings said. “This is about what is right. This is about taking care of our own. I believe Medicaid is a human rights issue.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member on the House Budget Committee, said that Medicaid in particular was a program for the “vast middle class” and that cutting it would harm working Americans who depend on government health care.

“It’s [Medicaid] also a program that benefits the vast middle class. A lot of people don’t realize that while the majority of people covered by Medicaid are poor children, the majority of the money spent in Medicaid is on seniors and individuals with disabilities, a lot of middle-income families who find themselves in precarious financial situations, and they rely on Medicaid for their long-term care,” he said.

“Families that are going along very well and all of a sudden one of their kids is involved in a tragic accident,” Van Hollen said. “They depend on Medicaid.

Boehner and Obama reportedly met over the weekend to begin talks to avert the fiscal cliff scenario of indiscriminate spending cuts and large tax increases on all Americans that are scheduled to take place at the beginning of next year.

Both the Federal Reserve and the Congressional Budget Office have forecast that unless Congress and the White House find a solution to that scenario, the economy will plunge back into recession early next year.

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