These GOP senators need to stand up to their party on healthcare
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American pop culture seems obsessed with superheroes. In dark times when ordinary humans fail, superheroes swoop in and rescue the imperiled. Unlike in the movies or comics, we must depend on actual humans to save some of our most vulnerable citizens — in this case, America’s seniors. 

The health and financial security of senior citizens are under attack on several fronts by President Trump and his party in Congress. Since House Republicans are on the front lines of this attack, best hopes for older Americans lie with a handful of Republican moderates in the Senate who could save the programs that seniors rely on. These Senators could become what we call “senior heroes” — thrusting themselves between seniors and legislation that would do them harm. 

Appallingly, the Trump 2018 budget slashes funding for Meals on Wheels and other safety net programs for needy seniors. The House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) guts Medicaid, weakens Medicare, and makes private insurance prohibitively expensive for most older Americans. Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Dem moves to force vote on bill protecting Mueller Collins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal House poised to vote on .3T spending bill MORE and the House GOP are making plans to privatize Medicare, which would send millions of seniors into the insurance market with paltry vouchers. Medicaid — which covers more than 60 percent of long-term nursing care for seniors — is targeted for a cumulative $1.3 trillion in budget cuts.


Are there potential senior heroes in the Senate who will stand up for doing the right thing before it’s too late? Last winter, the National Committee identified 4 Republicans who we thought could serve as a “firewall” against devastating changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainZuckerberg: Maybe tech should face some regulations Schiff mocks Trump: Obama, Bush didn't need staff warning 'do not congratulate' Putin GOP senator tears into Trump for congratulating Putin MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: What to expect in omnibus | HIV expert to head CDC | Sessions issues memo on death penalty for drug cases HIV expert named CDC director GOP lawmakers blast Dems for opposing ObamaCare fix MORE (R-Tenn.), Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal Overnight Cybersecurity: Zuckerberg breaks silence on Cambridge Analytica | Senators grill DHS chief on election security | Omnibus to include election cyber funds | Bill would create 'bug bounty' for State GOP lawmakers blast Dems for opposing ObamaCare fix MORE (R-Maine), and Sen. Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley on Trump calling Putin: 'I wouldn't have a conversation with a criminal' Lawmakers zero in on Zuckerberg GOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee MORE (R-Iowa). Now that the consequences of the GOP healthcare plan are painfully clear, we believe other potential “senior heroes” could defend programs for older Americans in general:

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoLawmakers propose boosting park funding with oil money Lawmakers trade barbs, torch Trump at DC soiree Overnight Health Care: Senators unveil bipartisan opioid bill | DOJ to seek reimbursements from opioid companies | Groups looking to end AIDS fear losing ground under Trump MORE (R-W.Va.)

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeNearly 70 percent say Trump is a bad role model for children: poll GOP lawmaker: 'We might need to build a wall between California and Arizona' Steyer brings his push to impeach Trump to town halls across the nation MORE (R-Ariz.)

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump presses GOP to change Senate rules Republicans insist tax law will help in midterms The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Colo.)

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerRepublican drops Senate primary challenge to Heller after Trump's urging Three states where Dems can pick up Senate seats GOP senator: Justice Kennedy is going to retire this summer MORE (R-Nev.)

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiProposed budget for Indian Health Services won't treat Native American patients equally Keep anti-environment riders for Alaska out of spending bill Industry should comply with the Methane Waste Prevention Rule MORE (R-Ark.)

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Tech: Zuckerberg breaks silence on Cambridge Analytica controversy | Senate passes sex trafficking bill | EU pushes new tax on tech | YouTube toughens rules on gun videos Senate passes controversial online sex trafficking bill GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-Ohio)

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Ark.)

Each of these Senators has a vested interest in protecting seniors — and older Americans in these states have a lot to lose. Nearly 16 percent of Senator McCain’s and Senator Flake’s Arizona constituents are over 65, with 1.1 million Medicare beneficiaries and 1.3 million enrolled in Medicaid. Seniors make up 15 percent of Senator Portman’s constituents in Ohio, with 2.1 and 2.2 million residents receiving Medicare and Medicaid respectively. There are 1.7 million Medicare beneficiaries and 1.7 million more Medicaid recipients in the remaining states represented by the other potential senior heroes. How will these millions of seniors survive if their benefits are cut or eliminated?

 We believe these Senators can be persuaded to protect the lifeline that affordable, accessible healthcare represents for seniors. The GOP healthcare plan would make it harder and more expensive for older Americans to obtain health coverage. An estimated 5 million Americans age 50-64 would outright lose health coverage under this legislation and many others would pay significantly more than under Obamacare. A 64 year-old earning $26,500 a year could pay more than $16,000 in net premiums by 2026. When seniors cannot access proper health care they get sicker; many of them die.

Senate Republicans literally hold the fate of these seniors in their hands, and yet Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCollins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal House poised to vote on .3T spending bill Budowsky: Stop Trump from firing Mueller MORE is recklessly rushing to pass the AHCA without hearings — and in virtual secrecy — for political expediency. As the Washington Post reported, “A small group of Republicans is amending the House bill behind closed doors. And for all the talk of having the Senate start over and fix the bad House bill, their reported changes appear to be minimal.” 

Senators will have precious little time to evaluate the bill before voting on it. McConnell will likely try to win over some of the moderate holdouts with small concessions that will allow the GOP to declare victory. But, for the sake of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends, they must stand firm. 

It is time for the Senate to put compassion before party, decency over expediency. For the sake of the millions of vulnerable seniors in their home states and across the country, we hope these GOP moderates will morph into the senior heroes we know they can be. 

Max Richtman is President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Aging.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.