Raúl believes in keeping promises the government has made to the American people. As far as he’s concerned, the relationship between public service and public support is a fundamental part of American life: you give to your country, and your country gives back. That’s why he’s such a strong supporter of continuing to fully fund Medicare, Social Security and support for veterans.
Health Care, Medicare and Medicaid
He’s put that support into action. He voted in favor of this year’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “health care reform,” which eliminates out‐of‐pocket expenses for preventive services in Medicare, closes the Medicare Part D “donut hole” that charges senior citizens thousands of dollars a year in prescription drug costs, eliminates overpayments to private Medicare plans (which in 2009 amounted to about $23 billion) and is expected to extend the life of the Medicare fund by at least 12 years. Republicans overwhelmingly voted against the bill and lied to the American people about “death panels” in a cynical attempt to keep the status quo broken for political benefit. (In fact, “death panels” was the Pulitzer-prize-winning Politifact.com’s “Lie of the Year.” That’s how bad it was.) Raúl believes Medicare is a fundamental compact between the government, the taxpayers and America’s senior citizens, and he’s going to fight to keep it healthy and fiscally strong for decades to come.
The same goes for Social Security, which Republicans are trying harder than ever to cut and privatize. Don’t take Raúl’s word for it: the Washington Post recently described this year’s GOP alternative budget as a plan to “wipe out deficits in part by privatizing Social Security and replacing traditional Medicare benefits with an insurance voucher for people age 55 and older.” Putting Social Security in private hands – unaccountable to the taxpayers, tempted by the lure of fast profits rather than long-term viability – is a recipe for disaster that President Bush already tried and failed to sell to the American people. Raúl believes Social Security is a top priority, not an expendable bargaining chip. He’s going to stand firmly against any attempt to reduce Social Security payments, because that’s just not what our current and future retirees deserve. The government made a promise when it created Social Security, and Raúl is going to make sure that promise is kept.
Speaking of keeping promises, what would that GOP alternative budget really do to Medicare? According to one analysis written in the Washington Post, “The money seniors would get [from the government] to buy their own policies would grow more slowly than their health-care costs, and more slowly than their expected Medicare benefits, which means that they’d need to either cut back on how comprehensive their insurance is or how much health-care they purchase.” The alternative budget also privatizes Medicaid, the state-level support system for lower-income Americans, in the latest attempt to balance the budget at everyone’s expense but the richest. Cutting back on our long-standing and still badly needed medical support for senior citizens and the most financially needy isn’t Raúl’s vision of America, and that’s not the commitment he believes the government made when it created Medicare and Medicaid.
Strong Support for Veterans
Raúl is a big believer in keeping commitments to our veterans, which is why he helped start the University of Arizona’s nationally recognized Veterans Education and Transition Services (VETS) program in 2008. That’s also why he cosponsored the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, which became law in October of 2009. The law means Congress now authorizes appropriations for Department of Veterans Affairs medical care programs one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year, beginning in 2011, ensuring reliable and timely funding for high-quality medical care for veterans. 2008 was the first time in 12 years in which the veterans’ appropriations bill was enacted on time. In the past, when the VA budget was late, the nation’s largest healthcare provider was forced to wait in limbo, relying on stop-gap funding measures. VA hospitals and clinics couldn’t plan for critical staffing and equipment needs, leading to long waits for appointments. The Transparency Act fundamentally reformed how the U.S. funds veterans’ health care, which will no longer be held hostage to the annual budget battles in Washington.
Raúl also cosponsored the Homes for Heroes Act, which the House passed and referred to the Senate in June of 2009. Among other provisions, the bill would:
- Create a new Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to coordinate services to homeless veterans and serve as a liaison to the VA, state and local officials, and nonprofit service organizations.
- Establish supportive housing and services for very low-income veterans and their families through an assistance program for permanent supportive housing and services for low-income veterans.
- Exclude veterans benefits payments received from the VA from federal assisted housing rent considerations.
- Provide rental assistance for homeless veterans, authorizing 20,000 vouchers annually in conjunction with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Those are steps we need to take if we’re really going to keep our commitment to our veterans, and Raúl is proud of his support for the bill. Veterans care is one of his very top priorities, not just this year but every year he’s been fighting for the people of Southern Arizona. We put our veterans in harm’s way, and he believes that assisting them when they return home is a matter of integrity.
Making sure Arizonans have the health care system they need and deserve takes careful planning and a commitment to success, not just Republican rhetoric about lower taxes. Raúl was glad to see Arizona receive $9.3 million from the Recovery Act to upgrade health information technology around the state. That’s exactly the kind of long-term cost savings investment that he thinks we need to pursue. His feeling is that if Republicans want to have a discussion about our commitments and spending priorities, they need to start by explaining why our 2009 military budget was more than the next 45 highest-spending countries combined – more than 10 times Russia’s military spending and more than five times China’s spending. When it comes to fiscal responsibility, Raúl believes we need to look at the real sources of our budget woes, not slash benefits for Americans who paid into a successful system that needs our continued support. If Republicans disagree, let them explain their alternatives.