Congressional Republicans are once again holding vital federal programs hostage in order to exact cuts they can’t get otherwise to programs like Social Security and Medicare.  This time it’s, unbelievably, America’s 9-11 first-responders who are being told the fund which provides health care benefits and compensation won’t be reauthorized without cuts coming from Medicare and Medicaid budgets to pay for it.

This year alone, there have been multiple attempts by Congress to use Social Security and/or Medicare as an ATM to pay for completely unrelated – yet very important – national priorities. Already this year, Medicare sequester cuts have been extended into 2024. Then Medicare was cut again to help pay for the Trade bill. There was also a failed attempt this summer to fund the highway bill with Social Security cuts.  Now, the absolutely vital need to provide for 9-11 first responders is being held-up because the GOP hopes to use that leverage to get nearly $3 billion dollars in cuts from Medicare and Medicaid. 

New York Senators Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) stood with 9/11 responders at a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday.  CBS reported:

“They carried bodies, ran into towers and dug in the rubble for remains,” Gillibrand said. “We’re reminded that more police officers have died since 9/11 than on 9/11 and we’re reminded how shameful it is that Congress has not passed a permanent reauthorization of the health and compensation programs.”

Schumer said Democrats are optimistic Congress will reauthorize the programs, but said negotiating over it is not an option.

“To hear some of my colleagues use Zadroga as a trading piece, like some bargaining piece…the lives of our first responders are not a bargaining chip and can never be. You don’t trade it…no way,” Schumer said.

As if holding 9-11 first-responders hostage in order to cut programs serving millions of seniors, people with disabilities and the poor isn’t cynical enough, here’s the real kicker — GOP negotiators are simultaneously pushing for $800 billion in tax breaks without ANY pay-fors.  Apparently, so-called “fiscal responsibility” only matters when it involves funding programs for average Americans.  As Sen. Robert Menendez, (D-NJ) noted tax cuts for huge corporations are exempt:

“While budget hawks have expressed concern about paying for it, Menendez pointed out that a group of senators is simultaneously negotiating a bill that would extend around $800 billion in tax breaks (for instance, it would extend write-offs for business investments and repeal a specific tax in the Affordable Care Act) — and that would go unpaid for.

“I don’t understand how the rules don’t apply to large corporations that will reap billions of dollars, but somehow those rules are asserted when we are trying to take care of the men and women who responded on that fateful day,” Menendez said. “We should accept our profound, collective responsibility — not charity — but responsibility to act on this legislation.” …CBS News

The bulk of the Medicare cuts proposed ($1.9 billion) would come from continuing the GOP trend of means-testing, ultimately converting Medicare into a welfare program in which only lower income beneficiaries receive full benefits.  Years of means-testing in Medicare, begun during the Bush administration, continues to erode the benefit for millions of seniors who contribute to the program yet who Republicans say should pay more and more.  Seniors who pay into Medicare and Social Security have earned their benefits.  Severing that tie and turning these programs into welfare is part of the larger political goal to undermine the programs over time and a disaster for generations of seniors who will depend on them.