By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
According to newly elected Rep. Susan Brooks, reducing the cost of Medicare is the biggest issue facing Congress. It needs to be fixed right away as a means to reduce the national debt, she said.
Brooks, R-5th District, visited with Tipton residents Thursday at the Pizza Shack to address national issues in her first visit to the community since taking office.
“A number of freshmen members from both parties believe Medicare and Social Security have to be changed in the future,” she said.
Brooks said the House budget contains “a premium support option” that will give people the opportunity for private health insurance or traditional Medicare. She said the plan is to have the government pay for those taking the private insurance option.
Under this approach, Medicare enrollees would choose a private health plan and the federal government would pay a predetermined contribution to that plan.
“With reimbursement to doctors and hospitals being reduced, there is a concern that there will be a shortage of primary care physicians,” she said. “There are 10,000 seniors rolling onto the Medicare roles daily.”
Brooks said there should be needs-testing that ensures wealthy people are not forced to sign up for Medicare. Benefits should be based on fiscal need, she said.
“When it was created, they didn’t expect people to depend on the program for their medical care,” Brooks said. “There are not enough young people paying into the system.”
Brooks said Congress is focused on the national debt, noting the “No Budget-No Pay” legislation was passed by the House and Senate.
“If each house didn’t pass a budget, we wouldn’t get paid,” she said. “The plan to reduce the debt has to be balanced.”
For the first time in four years, the Senate passed a budget. And now that both chambers have a spending proposal, the priorities are known, she said.
“We have to work together to reduce the debt,” Brooks said. “Republicans don’t want to raise taxes, and Democrats want to increase revenues.”
She expects the vote to increase the debt ceiling not to take place until the end of May.
Brooks said when the sequester bill was signed, President Barack Obama never thought budget cuts would be implemented.
The $85 billion in cuts that took place earlier this year amount to 2 percent of the federal budget, she said.
“Across-the-board cuts were not a smart way to put them into place,” she said. “We are now leaving it up to the administration of each agency to implement the cuts.”
Brooks said there have been positive discussions between members of both political parties about tax reform.
“There will be a change of rates,” she said. “It will include changes in how deductions are taken and will close loopholes. We’re falling behind the rest of the world. We’re losing our competitive edge.”
She also expects legislation to be passed concerning immigration reform.
“We’re waiting on the Senate legislation,” Brooks said. “It may happen this session.
“Right now there are too many undocumented workers in the country that are not paying taxes and receiving benefits,” she said. “We need to reform the guest-worker program because there are a lot of people that want to work in this country and return to their native country.”