Sen. Robert Menendez and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. on Friday paid a visit to in Belmar where they spoke to a packed house of seniors about how they benefit from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or "Obamacare."
The congressmen also managed to get a few digs in to Republicans ahead of the 2012 presidential election regarding the House GOP's budget proposal that they say would strip $1 trillion from the Medicare program.
Before a backdrop of wall-to-wall windows overlooking Belmar beach, Mayor Matt Doherty introduced his fellow Democrats who took turns at the podium touting the benefits seniors already, and will, reap from the ACA, which they said has extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund, provided preventative care with no co-pays, and will close the "doughnut hole" in senior prescription drug coverage.
The lawmakers also used their platform to take shots at the GOP's plan to repeal Obamacare, which they said would end up costing seniors $6000 extra in out-of-pocket expenses each year. Both legislators decried "tax cuts for the rich," big-oil tax breaks, offshore tax havens and ethanol subsidies for needlessly contributing to the deficit and diverting away funds from programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
After the Great Depression, Menendez said, Democrats led the way in creating a baseline of security for seniors with Social Security and then through Medicare ensured they would not spend their way to poverty by paying their rising health-care costs.
"Yes, we have to reduce our debt, but we can do that in ways that don't undermine the very essence of the principles that we've had, the social contract we've made," Menendez said.
The lawmakers cautioned seniors to be weary of the Republican notion that Medicare and Social Security are unsustainable and should be privatized.
"I want you to know that they are sustainable. I don't buy that argument. So when people tell you these programs are not sustainable and we have to change them or privatize them, I say, 'Not true,' OK?"
Growing the economy and reducing unemployment, Pallone said, would increase tax revenues and ensure those programs are here to stay.
"Social Security still has a very long way to go," Menendez said during a question-and-answer session following the lawmaker's speeches. "There is no immediacy that some people try to portray as a way to dramatically change the very nature of Social Security."
Pallone said that privatizing and "voucherizing" Medicare, which the Republican House budget proposal would do, eliminates the program's guarantee. The GOP budget plan also takes away a large portion of funding from Medicaid, which helps pay for nursing home and community-based home health care Pallone said.
If that happened, Pallone said, states, which match federal dollars to fund the program, would not be able to afford nursing home care and likely be forced to do away entirely with community-based care.
"The consequence of that, I think, is either nursing homes are not available or they're lousy," Pallone said.
Pallone, during the question-and-answer, said that since Republicans already lost their battle to privatize Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid was the next battle.
But since the Democratic-controlled Senate would never pass the GOP budget, Pallone said that legislation was already dead in the water.
When Menendez was asked if tax cuts under Reagan and Kennedy caused federal revenues to increase, the senator said he disagreed and that the Regan-era tax cuts in fact led to major deficits.
"I know our Republican colleagues like to say that, but it's simply not true," Menendez said of the Reagan tax cuts.
Following the event, Pallone said that this was just one step of several throughout his district to clear up the misinformation among seniors regarding Medicare.
"We're just basically trying to explain to seniors why these ideas in the Republican budget are not good," Pallone said.
Friday's trip to Belmar may be one of Pallone's final public appearances as its congressman before redistricting takes effect in January.
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