House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lobbied seniors Monday against the Republicans' 2012 budget proposal, warning it will erode their Medicare benefits to fund tax cuts for the wealthy.
"When Medicare was passed it was a pillar of stability for our seniors … much of which is being undermined by Republicans," Pelosi told dozens of seniors gathered at a retirement home in Orlando. "Why should the federal government save money on the backs of seniors at the same time that they are giving tax breaks to millionaires, giving subsidies to Big Oil, and tax cuts to companies that send jobs overseas?"
"Working together, we are going to make sure this comes out right, but we need your help, we need your voices, and your friends' voices," Pelosi urged.
Florida Democratic Reps. Corrine Brown and Kathy Castor also attended the event.
Unveiled earlier this month by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the GOP's 2012 budget proposal attempts to rein in the nation's soaring deficits, largely by raising Medicare's eligibility age; turning the program into a type of voucher system; and shifting seniors into private insurance plans. Republicans say the changes are necessary both to salvage the program and keep it from bankrupting the country as healthcare costs skyrocket and baby boomers retire.
"The greatest threat to Medicare is the status quo," Ryan told NPR last week.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the Ryan plan would increase healthcare premiums and other costs for Medicare-aged seniors – a shift that might also erode the quality of care, CBO warned.
The House passed the Ryan bill on Friday, with all but four Republicans voting in favor of the proposal. No Democrats supported the bill.
The bill isn't expected to be taken up by the Senate. Still, Democrats are hoping the proposal alone is enough to draw a distinction between each party's legislative agenda amid an economy where unemployment remains near 9 percent.
"What they are proposing does not create jobs, does not protect Medicare or Medicaid, and does not care for our seniors," Pelosi said.
The proposal also puts Republicans in the awkward position of calling for steep Medicare cuts just months after an election season where they blasted the Democrats' healthcare reform law for eroding seniors' benefits.