By COLLEEN LONG and JOSH BOAK Associated Press
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday said GOP lawmakers could put millions of people’s health care at risk, honing his message ahead of the release of his budget plan next week as Republicans push for him to negotiate over spending levels.
The Democratic president spoke at a recreation center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. His remarks were part of a broader effort this week to contrast his administration’s priorities with those of Republicans who have yet to spell out their budget cuts. Using past proposals, Biden said the GOP could try to slash Medicaid and Obamacare benefits, as well as Social Security and Medicare.
“What are they going to cut? That’s the big question,” Biden said Tuesday. “For millions of Americans, health care hangs in the balance.”
Biden said that many Republicans are “really good.” But, he said, the GOP lawmakers who are part of the “Make America Great Again” movement started by former President Donald Trump have shown a willingness to cut funding for health care and allow the federal government to default on its financial obligations.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has called for the government to be on a path toward a balanced budget, but he has yet to offer an outline of which spending he would cut. The president has been using the absence of a GOP plan against them, choosing to highlight past proposals.
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 came to spread “partisan rumors,” since Republican lawmakers have already 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. He’s pledged to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid and defend Social Security from reductions in spending, saying that his goal is to bring down medical costs for families “so you have a little bit of breathing room.”
“That’s what all Americans deserve: peace of mind,” Biden said. “That comes from knowing that an illness if it strikes or an accident occurs, you can get quality medical care and recover and heal.”
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.
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. The greater challenge is whether lawmakers can find common ground, as the government needs to raise its legal borrowing authority by this summer in order to keep operating.
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.
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.
Associated Press writer Fatima Hussein contributed to this report.