By Jason A. Stephany
Tuesday, August 2, marks a critical deadline for the United States economy: for the first time in our nation’s history, the government may default on its debts. And should that happen, the ripple effects will be felt by every American consumer and taxpayer. A downgrade of the United States’ credit rating, higher interest rates on our credit cards, mortgages and car loans, and investor uncertainty that will leave already-fragile markets reeling. Our slow-but-sureeconomic recovery could revert to a full-on recession in a matter of days.
The clock is running out on the debt debate, and responsible lawmakers agree that default is not an option. So why are some in congress – including US Senator Scott Brown – refusing to state a position on key aspects of the debt proposals before them? One would think big ticket items like $500 billion in proposed health care cuts would call for an immediate rebuke from the commonwealth’s junior senator. Yet questions from constituents and journalists on debt-related health care cuts have gone unanswered for weeks, as Brown and his staff continue to avoid taking a position on a host of programs, including Medicaid.
Over the last week, large coalitions of healthcare providers, patients, consumer advocates – even insurance company representatives – have gathered to call on Brown and his fellow lawmakers to do the right thing and take a stand in support of Medicare, Medicaid and other critical health care programs that are now on the chopping block. At one gathering, many pointed to the key decision that remains at the crux of the debt negotiations: protecting tax breaks for major corporations and our wealthiest citizens or preserving funding for federal health care programs.
Among them was David Sandison, a disabled Medicaid recipient who relies on in-home assistance, who addressed the issue head-on.“Because of my disability, I depend on Medicaid funds to live and work independently,” said Sandison. “So I have a question for Scott Brown: will you vote to save Medicaid, or will you support tax breaks for oil companies and billionaires?”
Stacy Hart, a consumer advocate with the Boston Center for Independent Living, explained that for many families – including her own – the funding of Medicaid programs is a matter of life and death. “Medicaid saved my husband’s life. He was in a coma for several months until the doctors could address a very serious medical condition,” said Hart. “Without Medicaid, my husband never would have woken up, rejoined his family, or come back to work as a member of the community. We need to know where Scott Brown stands on these cuts.”
The cuts Sandison and Hart describe aren’t just abstract numbers orhypotheticals. Health care providers estimate the cuts being contemplated could anywhere from $1 billion to $3 billion from state coffers – a full tenth of the overall Massachusetts budget. A recent report by Families USA, the non-partisan health care consumer organization, shows the funding shortfall would not only slash assistance for the poor, elderly and disabled; it would also jeopardize as many as 50,180 jobs and $6.8 billion in economic activity in the Bay State.
With so much at risk for Massachusetts citizens, the choice for any representative of the people should be clear. Yet Senator Brown continues his silence, reinforcing a “no position” position on what would certainly be disastrous cuts to health care. The question remains: why? What is keeping Brown from doing what’s right for Massachusetts? Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Executive Director of Health Care for All, put the decision before Brown in the starkest of terms. “I know it’s tough for Senator Brown to balance serving his party and serving the people of Massachusetts – but there should be no choice between maintaining the health of our state’s elderly and disabled residents and cutting taxes for the most wealthy among us,” said Whitcomb Slemmer. “Hundreds of billions of dollars in health care cuts, and millions of lives, are at stake. We call on Senator Brown to show leadership by supporting health care for our state’s most vulnerable populations.”
Whitcomb Slemmer’s pointed analysis lays the terms out plain. But at the end of the day, will Scott Brown do the right thing for Massachusetts? Will our Senator choose Medicaid or millionaires in the fight to address the national debt? Only time will tell – but withan August 2 deadline rapidly approaching, the clock is ticking.
Constituents may reach US Senator Scott Brown on this or any other issue of interest by calling (617) 565-3170.
Jason Stephany is the spokesman for MASSUNITING – a non-partisan coalition of neighbors, community groups, faith organizations and labor united in the fight for good jobs, corporate accountability and stronger communities.