The Stand

McDermott, Larsen oppose Reichert’s Medicare cuts; will others?

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UPDATE (June 11, 2015) — The member of Congress from Washington state who signed the following letter were U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott, and Adam Smith.


Fast-Track-Reichert_signsWASHINGTON, D.C. (June 9, 2015) — Last week, 61 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent their leaders a letter in strong opposition to the “Reichert Plan” embedded in the Senate-approved Fast Track bill that would cut $700 million from Medicare to help finance Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers who lose their jobs overseas. None of the 61 who signed were from Washington state.

This week, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus that organized the letter, “reopened” it to allow more members of Congress to sign through Wednesday of this week. As of this writing, there are now 68 signers, including Washington Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott and Rick Larsen.

Both the Washington Fair Trade Coalition and the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO have contacted the remaining Democratic members of Washington’s congressional delegation to urge them to oppose the Reichert TAA-Medicare cut by signing the letter. The Stand will update this report on Thursday with who chose sign the letter and who did not.

BACKGROUND — Congress is currently voting on whether to grant Trade Promotion Authority, known as “Fast Track,” for the negotiation of the TPP and other trade agreements. Fast Track restricts debate and forbids amendments on the deals, allowing only an up-or-down vote in Congress. It narrowly passed the Senate last week, but Fast Track faces a tougher test in the House in a vote that could come as soon as this Thursday, June 11.

At the insistence of Senate Democrats, the Fast Track bill included an extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides unemployment and job-training benefits to workers who lose their jobs because of these trade deals when manufacturing/production is shifted overseas.

reichert-dave-15On April 16, a Senate bill to reauthorize the TAA was introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). A day later, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) introduced his House “companion” version, but it included an important difference. Unlike Collins’ version, Reichert proposed covering some of the $2.7-billion cost of the TAA extension by cutting $700 million out of future doctor and hospital reimbursements for Medicare.

Reichert’s idea was subsequently included in the Fast Track bill that passed the Senate on May 22. These Medicare cuts — buried in the bill and largely unreported in the media — must be removed by the House to be avoided. One of the few reports about Reichert’s plan to raid Medicare funds appeared in the L.A. Times:

Medicare means many things to many people. To seniors, it’s a program providing good, low-cost healthcare at a stage in life when it’s most needed.

To Congress, it’s beginning to look more like a piggy bank to be raided.

That’s the only conclusion one can draw from a provision slipped into a measure to extend and increase the government’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which provides assistance to workers who lose their jobs because of trade deals. The measure, introduced by Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.), proposes covering some of the $2.7-billion cost of the extension by slicing $700 million out of doctor and hospital reimbursements for Medicare.

Reichert’s communications and legislative staff refused to respond to a request for comment from The Stand about the congressman’s Medicare cuts.

On June 1, 61 House members sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi opposing the Reichert Plan, saying:

American workers rely on Trade Adjustment Assistance when trade deals send jobs overseas. While it is clear we need Trade Adjustment Assistance, it is not clear why the offset should be extended budget limitations on Medicare, as proposed. More than 50 million seniors rely on Medicare; we should be investing in the trust fund, not using savings to fund other programs.

Since then, Reps. McDermott and Larsen agreed to add their names to the letter opposing the Reichert Plan. Other U.S> Representatives have until Wednesday to sign it.

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