“The president’s budget is filled with debt and deception, disconnected from reality and continues to move America in the wrong direction,” charged Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, on Feb. 5.

“This administration has the worst fiscal record in history and this budget does nothing to change that,” he said. “It clings to the same misguided policies: costly tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest, cuts in domestic priorities and more fiscal irresponsibility.”

In his $2.9 trillion budget, which does not include all the spending on the Iraq war, President Bush is proposing to slash $80 billion from Medicare while once again giving huge tax breaks to the very rich.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said that people whose income exceeds $1 million per year would get an average $162,000 yearly tax reduction by 2012 under Bush’s plan. At the same time, seniors who have worked their entire lives would pay more for doctor visits (Medicare Part B) and watch their costs for prescription drugs skyrocket (Medicare Part D).

The Congressional Quarterly concluded, “The budget proposal includes an ambitious attempt to slow spending on entitlement programs, with Medicare as a particular target.” Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, summed it up: the administration’s plan for Medicare is “declaring war” on Americans.

Stark called for cutting payments to insurance companies that get Medicare checks and then disburse the money to hospitals, doctors and other professional providers. He proposed cutting funding to the middlemen who shuffle paper from stack A to stack B and focusing on maintaining doctors.

The Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) said Bush’s proposed Medicare cuts are $30 billion deeper than the cuts he proposed last year. Congress rejected Bush’s cuts at that time, and SOAR is urging that it do the same now.

The steelworker retirees noted with alarm that since Bush took office, 6.8 million more Americans have no health insurance and health care costs have shot up 66 percent.

Research by SOAR estimates that Medicare overpayments to private insurance companies amount to about $50 billion over 10 years. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said cutting the role of insurance companies “should be on table” as Congress, the “decider” on spending, begins debate on the budget.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney condemned the proposed Medicare cuts as “unconscionable,” saying the Bush plan would shift more costs to the states.

Slashing Medicare would place even the limited state health care initiatives to cover uninsured residents, like the Massachusetts program or the plan being debated in Pennsylvania, at greater risk.

House Democrats, with a groundswell of support from labor and seniors groups, including the AARP, sent a salvo across the administration’s bow. By a 255-170 vote, with some Republicans joining in, they passed the Medicare Price Negotiation Act, HR 4, which enables the government to leverage mass buying power, as it already does at the Veterans Administration, to lower the cost of prescription drugs. It addresses the onerous provision jammed through by Republicans with their prescription drug plan, Medicare Part D.

A big issue in the 2006 midterm elections, especially in states like Pennsylvania, Medicare drug price negotiation passed during the first 100 hours of the new Democratic-controlled House.

dwinebr696 @ aol.com