The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Obama’s New Budget: Why He’ll Cut Social Security & Medicare | Jack Rasmus

Having agreed to decouple tax cuts on January 1 and having been outmaneuvered on March 1 and March 27, and with Teapublicans signaling there will be debt ceiling crisis in May, Obama has been stripped of all his leverage points in bargaining. He has no ‘stick’, only more ‘carrots’ to offer and his opposition knows it. Obama has left only the option to offer even more social security, medicare and Medicaid cuts. And throughout March he has continued to do so unilaterally once again. Not just offering once again to cut COLA adjustments for social security but to suggest his willingness to confront big cuts—in the $600 to $700 billion range—for medicare and social security and more for Medicaid. Even more specific reductions will be forthcoming in weeks to come.

But Obama has planned all along to cut social security and Medicare. He made that clear in his signing of the Bush tax cuts deal on January 2, 2013, during which he stated: “Medicare is the Main Cause of Deficits”. And again, in his February State of the Union address, Obama publicly noted he ‘liked the Simpson-Bowles’ recommendations concerning Medicare cuts.

And what are the Simpson-Bowles recommendations for Medicare cuts?

A new $550 a year deductible for Parts A and B of Medicare and provide only 80% coverage for Part A instead of the current 100% (which would require another $150-$300 a month in private insurance to cover the remaining 20%, much like Part B now). That together amounts to another $195-$350 taken out of monthly social security checks to cover, when the average for social security benefit payments is only $1100 a month today. In other words, Medicare benefits will not be cut. Its just that if seniors want to maintain current levels of benefits they’ll have to pay even more for them. Alternatively, they can choose to have fewer benefits and not pay more. It’s all about rationing health care, just as Obamacare for those under 65 is essentially about rationing—as were Bush’s proposals to expand health savings accounts (HSAs) and Bill Clinton’s health maintenance organization (HMOs) solution.

In his typical bargaining approach of ‘let’s make a unilateral offer and see what the Teapublicans do’, in recent weeks Obama has again unilaterally offered to reduce social security COLA increases that will take more than $230 billion out of the pockets of seniors. He has also proposed to introduce a means test for the wealthy, which Teapublicans will begin to extend down to the middle class. As for Medicare, watch for the Simpson-Bowles recommendations in some form to appear, likely scaled in over time. If not in the budget itself, then surely in negotiations that follow. Readers should also note that Obama last week announced higher payments to medicare health providers, while simultaneously planning in his budget cuts for seniors. But Medicare ‘cuts’ will not be mandated benefit reductions. Instead, seniors will have to pay more for the benefits they have, or opt for lower benefit coverage. Social Security Disability recipients will be also significantly impacted by the forthcoming proposals. And Republican state governors will be permitted to reduce their spending in part on Medicaid. And of course, almost certainly there will be the changes to social security: reduction of cost of living adjustments, means testing, and a raising of the eligibility age at least to 67 and later possibly even higher.

With only $1.2 more to cut in deficit spending to reach the Simpson-Bowles $4 trillion target, and Obama offering again his $600-$700 billion enticement in entitlement spending cuts, a deal is closer than ever before. Watch therefore for the full $600 billion in social security, medicare, and Medicaid to take effect, the effective date of the changes to be ‘backloaded’ in later years of the decade and certainly not before the next midterm elections in 2014.

Expect defense spending cuts of no more than half the $500 billion proposed in the sequester, and nearly all of which will be from withdrawals from middle east (Afghanistan, Iraq) operations and not equipment spending. After 2014, most will be recouped as defense spending on naval and air force equipment and operations will ‘ramp up’ for the shift of US military focus to the pacific. The Army brass had its land wars in Asia; now it’s the turn of Navy and Air Force in the pacific.

That leaves only a ‘token’ tax revenue increase of about $200 billion over the coming decade, or a paltry $20 billion a year, which will come in difficult to estimate phony tax ‘loophole’ closings. Major cuts in corporate taxes later in 2013 will not be included or ‘calculated’ in the grand bargain $4 trillion deal. In addition to big cuts in the top corporate tax rate, look for multinational corporations’ tax breaks and tax forgiveness on the $1.4 trillion they are presently sheltering in offshore subsidiaries as well. And of course small-medium business will be thrown yet another tax cut bone to buy into the deal. In exchange, the middle class will pay more in terms of limits on deductions and exemptions.

In retrospect over the past three years, and especially since November 2012 elections, the ‘grand bargain’ looks less like a bargain and more like a ‘grand collusion’ between the various parties—Teapublican, Big Corporate, Obama, and the pro-corporate wing of Democrats in Congress that have had a stranglehold on the Democratic party since the late 1980s.

This is not the Democratic Party of your grandfather that agreed to introduce Social Security in the 1930s and that proposed Medicare in the 1960s. This is the Democratic Party, and the Democratic President, that has agreed with Republicans and Corporate America to begin the repealing in stages of these very same programs—programs that are not ‘entitlements’ but are in fact ‘deferred wages’ earned by Americans over the decades that are now being ‘concession bargained’ away without any say or input. Not content with concessions from those workers still in the labor force, capitalist policymakers are intent on concessions on social wages now coming due in the form of social security and medicare benefits.

It’s not a grand bargain; it’s a charade and a ‘grand collusion’ from the very beginning from Simpson-Bowles to the present. [++]

mediamattersforamerica:

As health care costs are on the steady rise, it’s clear that if right-wing media want to talk about America’s “spending problem,” they cannot ignore the fact that private sector insurance actually worsens our country’s debt.
Experts say “we spend twice as much per person on health care as other advanced countries, but we have worse health outcomes, including a lower life expectancy.” (Center for Economic and Policy Research) 
This is particularly important as we look at Medicare and Medicaid health care costs. Nearly all health care services are provided by the private sector for these programs. 
So, the next time your conservative friend wants to complain about the deficit, assure them that high private health care costs are coming right out of American taxpayers’ pockets.

mediamattersforamerica:

As health care costs are on the steady rise, it’s clear that if right-wing media want to talk about America’s “spending problem,” they cannot ignore the fact that private sector insurance actually worsens our country’s debt.

Experts say “we spend twice as much per person on health care as other advanced countries, but we have worse health outcomes, including a lower life expectancy.” (Center for Economic and Policy Research) 

This is particularly important as we look at Medicare and Medicaid health care costs. Nearly all health care services are provided by the private sector for these programs. 

So, the next time your conservative friend wants to complain about the deficit, assure them that high private health care costs are coming right out of American taxpayers’ pockets.

Apparatchiks in a Class War | Rob Urie

The coalition to cut social insurance programs runs from true believers who either don’t understand or don’t care about how national accounts work (the U.S. has a fiat currency) to Wall Street insiders who want to earn fees from privatizing Social Security to trans-national plutocrats who want to shift ever more public resources into their own pockets through corporate and individual tax cuts and through ownership and management of private insurance schemes. That a representative of all of these interests—Democrat Erskine Bowles, is Mr. Obama’s ‘lead’ in developing and pushing forward the rationales for cutting social insurance ties Mr. Obama directly to these interests.

Social Security and Medicare are funded with deductions made from the paychecks of working people. (Corporate contributions to these programs are part of the total compensation paid to labor, not the ‘property’ of the corporations). These are insurance programs in significant ways like private insurance, only more efficient and designed to provide a social benefit rather than to enrich insurance executives. Social Security can meet all of its obligations for the next thirty years and most of them thereafter with no changes or cuts to the program. The ‘crisis’ with Medicare is due almost entirely to expected increases in medical costs that a ‘Medicare for all’ healthcare system that has the ability to negotiate prescription drug prices would solve. And by providing pre and post-natal care to the working poor and poor, Medicaid means the difference between first and third world infant mortality rates.

The scare tactics being used to cut social insurance depend on the public’s misunderstanding of several related issues. In the first, the U.S. isn’t ‘broke’ because it can create money as needed—ask yourself: how were the bank bailouts funded? Next: what is an ‘entitlement’ when existing government policy overwhelmingly benefits the rich through favorable tax treatment, cost-plus government contracts, Federal Reserve bailouts and government guarantees of the banks. ‘Free markets’ have nothing to do with how the wealthy became so. The fight over ‘entitlements’ is over how government expenditures are allocated, not over their ‘scarcity.’

Social Security has an income ‘cap’ of $110,000 above which no deduction is made. A billionaire who became rich by sending jobs overseas—by firing and lowering the wages of labor, pays a smaller proportion of his or her income into Social Security than does the worker whose wages have been reduced. And by reducing the wages of labor, workers are left with less to pay in to these social insurance programs through payroll taxes. The problem with Social Security and Medicare is that a small group of connected plutocrats have ‘entitled’ themselves to far more of what labor produces. How often has the deficit ‘crisis’ been raised when there is a war to be fought for multi-national oil companies or a corporate welfare scheme like the bank bailouts to be paid for?

And this all ties back to Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act– if he and his corporate supporters were truly interested in fiscal discipline they would have pushed for far less costly ‘Medicare for all.’ Instead Mr. Obama pursued a deal with private health insurers that includes a ‘profit’ above the cost of a government program. Those wanting to argue the political infeasibility of Medicare for all are now confronted with a ‘liberal’ Democratic President who believes he can cut the programs that most of us have paid into under known terms for decades. If doing this is politically feasible while building a rational public health care system isn’t, we are truly doomed.

Ultimately Mr. Obama, like his ‘opponent’ Mitt Romney, is but an apparatchik in a class war launched by the rich against the rest of us. Left out of the contrived nonsense about an ‘entitlement’ society is who exactly is entitled. Were the government spending the rich live off of under the knife there would be no argument of scarcity—we have the wars, the bailouts and corporate welfare to prove it. But social insurance programs stand between over one hundred million of our citizens and destitution. And these are programs we have collectively paid for—they aren’t a ‘gift’ as the rich and their servants in government would have us believe.

Perry ‘proudly’ refuses health care to 1.2 million low-income Texans

sinidentidades:

In a statement published Monday morning, Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) “proudly” declared that he will decline to implement key tenets of the Affordable Care Act — a move that will see his state forgo an estimated $164 billion dollars in federal aid and leave over 1.2 million low-income Texans, who would have finally been eligible for health care, helpless and uninsured.

“This is a fiscally stupid decision on the part of Rick Perry,” Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Rebecca Acuña told Raw Story. “Texas would be one of the states that gets the most money from the federal government and the Medicaid expansion would have provided health care to more than a million Texans. It’s… It’s very sad that Rick Perry is willing to play politics with the health of Texans, and that’s exactly what this decision is.”

With his announcement, Perry becomes the sixth governor to refuse implementing a key aspect of the Affordable Care Act: the Medicaid expansion and the state-based health care exchanges. Republican governors in Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Wisconsin have made similar decisions, but Texas is by far the biggest.

Perry would seem to be inviting a political free-for-all thanks to the relative size and power of the Texas hospital industry, which absorbed more than $4.6 billion in unpaid emergency medical costs in 2010. While not seeing it as a cure-all, Texas hospitals largely praised the Affordable Care Act for dramatically expanding health care options for poor people, who are ultimately paid for by others who carry their own insurance. Nearly 25 percent of Texans — 6.5 million people — do not have health insurance, including more than 1.2 million children, and the state’s health care system ranks last in the nation overall.

WATCH: Perry says Medicaid expansion like ‘adding 1,000 people to the Titanic’

(via basedlenin-deactivated20120831)

The invisible welfare state of the top one percent | Ezra Klein

Other programs, like Medicare, are provided by the government, but eligibility is mostly automatic, and recipients have paid into them. Beneficiaries of such programs are somewhat less likely to realize they’re on a government dole than beneficiaries of means-tested programs.

Then there’s what Mettler calls “the submerged state.” These policies are mostly, though not exclusively, tax breaks. They include the much-beloved home-mortgage interest deduction and the tax exclusion for employer-provided health care. Recipients of these policies — and there are tens of millions of them — are rarely cognizant that they’re benefiting from a government program.

But they are. “Indirect social policies offer benefits that are comparable to direct social benefits both in their purposes and in their costs,” Mettler and Koch write. “Both are targeted to specific groups of people, aimed to reward some kind of activity or some class of persons whom policymakers deem worthy of public support. From an accounting perspective, as well, both types have the same effect: They impose costs on the federal budget, whether incurred through fiscal obligations or lost revenues.”

The costs are significant. Huge, in fact. Tax expenditures now cost the federal government $1 trillion annually — more than Medicare and Medicaid combined. And they’re regressive.

There is also a pattern to these programs: The more a government social program benefits wealthier Americans, the less obtrusive it is. We design policies for the poor in ways that make it hard to escape the knowledge that the government is providing help. But richer Americans rely on programs that are “submerged.”

(Source: azspot, via sarahlee310)

jonathan-cunningham:

Contrary to “Entitlement Society” Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households

In a December 2011 op-ed, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney warned ominously of the dangers that the nation faces from the encroachment of the “Entitlement Society,” predicting that in a few years, “we will have created a society that contains a sizable contingent of long-term jobless, dependent on government benefits for survival.”  “Government dependency,” he wrote, “can only foster passivity and sloth.”[2]  Similarly, former Senator Rick Santorum said that recent expansions in the “reach of government” and the spending behind them are “systematically destroying the work ethic.”[3] 
The claim behind these critiques is clear: federal spending on entitlements and other mandatory programs through which individuals receive benefits is promoting laziness, creating a dependent class of Americans who are losing the desire to work and would rather collect government benefits than find a job.  
Such beliefs are starkly at odds with the basic facts regarding social programs, the analysis finds. Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percentof the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households.  People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits. 

The entire “welfare state”, “entitlement society”, “dependency creating” approach to social services is nothing more than aggressive anti-poor propaganda designed to minimize taxation on the wealthy by creating a false sense of exploitation.

jonathan-cunningham:

Contrary to “Entitlement Society” Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households

In a December 2011 op-ed, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney warned ominously of the dangers that the nation faces from the encroachment of the “Entitlement Society,” predicting that in a few years, “we will have created a society that contains a sizable contingent of long-term jobless, dependent on government benefits for survival.”  “Government dependency,” he wrote, “can only foster passivity and sloth.”[2]  Similarly, former Senator Rick Santorum said that recent expansions in the “reach of government” and the spending behind them are “systematically destroying the work ethic.”[3] 

The claim behind these critiques is clear: federal spending on entitlements and other mandatory programs through which individuals receive benefits is promoting laziness, creating a dependent class of Americans who are losing the desire to work and would rather collect government benefits than find a job.  

Such beliefs are starkly at odds with the basic facts regarding social programs, the analysis finds. Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percentof the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households.  People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits. 

The entire “welfare state”, “entitlement society”, “dependency creating” approach to social services is nothing more than aggressive anti-poor propaganda designed to minimize taxation on the wealthy by creating a false sense of exploitation.

Time Is On Our Side: The Survival of Social Security | Dean Baker

As we approach budget time we can look forward to another burst of handwringing by the Washington elites, who will once again tell us about the need to cut Social Security and Medicare. News stories and opinion columns will be filled with solemn pronouncements about how these programs must be curtailed before they drive the nation to bankruptcy.

We can look forward to that famously deceptive graph showing how the cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are projected to soar as a share of the economy over the next two or three decades. Those with good eyes will notice that it is the cost of Medicare and Medicaid that are soaring, not Social Security.

This is primarily due to the projected explosion of private sector health care costs, not the impact of aging on the cost of the programs. That would lead honest people to focus on the need to get U.S. health care costs in line with costs in every other country in the world, but no one ever said that the Washington elites were honest.

But this is old hat. We know that the elites tell stories to advance their agenda. What is worth noting – and celebrating – is that thus far they have failed. [++]

Super Committee Cuts to Social Security Divert from Real Issues | Jeff Madrick

This bears repeating:

The Congressional Super Committee to cut the budget deficit, due to report soon, has let it be known that it will cut Social Security benefits. Let me be short and sour about this. It is a public relations stunt. They basically say so. All this is about is showing the world America is serious about cutting its long-term deficit. The nation has the guts to do what it takes. It is no bleeding heart country. It is willing to beat up on the elderly.

Other allegedly serious Democratic economists from fancy institutions have made the same argument. The reason is simple. You seemingly can make modest adjustments to Social Security to dent or even eliminate the projected longer-run shortfall. You can’t do that with Medicare.

In exchange for these Social Security cuts, the Democrats expect the Republicans to consider tax increases. They are probably going to be rolled again by the intransigent Republicans, who believe avoiding all taxes on the rich is the sure path to infinite reelectability.

So let’s be clear. The Social Security Administration projects that benefits will rise by one percent of GDP from five percent to six percent over the next 20 years or so and then stabilize or even fall a bit due to the rising elderly population. One percent. That’s what all this is about.

This increase can be covered completely by raising payroll taxes by 6.2 to 7.2 percent for workers and employers. All of it can be covered by eliminating the cap on Social Security taxes, now about $109,000 a year. Even though it’s not practical, raising the cap to the point where it covers 90 percent of wages earned — the original level — would go a long way to paying for benefits.

[…]

What will drive future budget deficits is Medicare and Medicaid, not Social Security, and for the umpteenth time, the reason is that overall health costs are expected to rise quickly. This means we have to reform our uniquely inefficient healthcare system. Congress is, as usual, diverting us from the real issues. No wonder Americans like Occupy Wall Street.

A final word on taxes. The top 1 percent pay federal income taxes at a rate of 23 percent. If we raised it to their rate only ten years ago, we’d collect about $100 billion a year. If we reversed the Bush tax cuts on those who make $250,000 a year, we’d raise about $830 billion over ten years. If we reversed all the tax cuts, including on the middle class, which I’d favor, we’d raise about $3.5 trillion over ten years.

We have plenty of taxing capacity to take care of our needs. We simply refuse to act as a modern nation, driven by myths that we can somehow return to the simplicity of colonial America. But even colonial America was more complex than what today’s Republicans imagine it was.

Serving US Poor a Cold Cup of Bitter Tea | Karen Dolan

The conservative right tends to use our children as excuses for deficit hysteria and for dismantling Medicaid and Social Security. Yet the cold hard reality is that our children are in need of more food, more family income, and more shelter, and are getting instead only more poverty and hunger. Dismantling social safety net programs under the guise of helping our children through decreasing their future debt burden is a cynical argument at best

In truth, it is only our social safety net programs that kept millions more American children and adults out of poverty. Government programs such as unemployment insurance, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit on household income played a critical role in keeping the poverty rate from rising even more dramatically. In 2010, 3.9 million Americans, including 1.7 million children, were lifted out of poverty because of food stamps, while 3.2 million Americans were kept out of poverty by unemployment insurance benefits. Social Security provided a safety net from poverty to 20.3 million of us. Medicaid, the HalfInTen campaign tells us, provided health care to 48.6 million seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income children and families who may otherwise have had none. And, were Earned Income Tax Credit counted in the official poverty measure, it would show that the credit helped lift 5.4 million people out of poverty.

One final counter to right-wing nonsense about government spending impoverishing our children and our middle class. Although those lacking health insurance increased from 49 million in 2009 to 50 million in 2010, and employment-based health coverage continued to decline, children were protected from this downward trend because Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covered them. And, the Obama health care reform act, so much maligned by the right wing, enabled 18-24 year-olds to actually increase their health coverage by 2.0 percentage points.

Steve Inskeep and Barney Frank on Budget Priorities

  • INSKEEP: Congressman, if I can, we've just got a few seconds. You have mentioned defense spending. You've mentioned tax increases. Those are two areas of disagreement. The biggest part of the federal budget is entitlements...
  • FRANK: No, wrong. I'm sorry. The Defense budget is bigger than Medicare, and Social Security is, in fact, self-financing, still is.
  • INSKEEP: Let's stipulate for this conversation: a very, very, very, very, very big part of the budget is entitlements. Democrats are seen as resisting cuts. Is your side--in a couple of seconds--going to appoint people to the special committee who are ready to make a deal?
  • FRANK: I am not going to tell an 80-year-old woman living on $19,000 a year that she gets no cost-of-living, or that a man who has been doing physical labor all his life and is now at a 67-year-old retirement--which is where Social Security will be soon--that he has to work four or five more years.

Myths and realities about our long-term deficit | James K. Galbraith

The perverse character of the debt deal will now force the Pentagon into the fray on behalf of cutbacks in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This is true even though the Pentagon sequesters that would occur if Congress does not pass the recommendations of the new “supercommittee” are arguably phony. It seems obvious that both the Republicans and the White House understood this dynamic very well, which is why the defense-spending-cut rabbit came out of the debt-deal hat at the last minute. As usual, the progressives who momentarily thought this was a win for Democrats were duped.

So what is to be done? This is not a moment to describe policies that would, for example, create jobs, build infrastructure, or deal with energy or climate change. Nothing like that can happen now until ideas change. And the first change must be to challenge and reject all the nonsense about long-term budget deficits, national bankruptcy or insolvency, and even “fiscal responsibility” that we are hearing. The entire object of this propaganda campaign is to cripple government—including regulation and the courts—and to roll back Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The defense of those successful, effective—and yes, sustainable—programs just became far more difficult, and perhaps impossible. But it needs to be carried on to the last ditch.

An Economy Destroyed

There is no budget focus on the illegal wars and military occupations that the US government has underway in at least six countries or the 66-year old US occupations of Japan and Germany and the ring of military bases being constructed around Russia.

The total military/security budget is in the vicinity of $1.1-$1.2 trillion, or 70 per cent -75 per cent of the federal budget deficit.

In contrast, Social Security is solvent. Medicare expenditures are coming close to exceeding the 2.3 per cent payroll tax that funds Medicare, but it is dishonest for politicians and pundits to blame the US budget deficit on “entitlement programs.”

Entitlements are funded with a payroll tax. Wars are not funded. The criminal Bush regime lied to Americans and claimed that the Iraq war would only cost $70 billion at the most and would be paid for with Iraq oil revenues. When Bush’s chief economic advisor, Larry Lindsay, said the Iraq invasion would cost $200 billion, Bush fired him. In fact, Lindsay was off by a factor of 20. Economic and budget experts have calculated that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have consumed $4,000 billion in out-of-pocket and already incurred future costs. In other words, the ongoing wars and occupations have already eaten up the $4 trillion by which Obama hopes to cut federal spending over the next ten years. Bomb now, pay later.

As taxing the rich is not part of the political solution, the focus is on rewarding the insurance companies by privatizing Medicare at some future date with government subsidized insurance premiums, by capping Medicaid, and by loading the diminishing middle class with additional Social Security tax.

(via azspot)

Defending the American Social Safety Net

Senator Sanders:

Today, actual unemployment is over 15 percent. Median family income has declined by $2,500 during the last decade and millions of workers are now forced to work at wages that are lower than they used to earn.  (For example, new employees in the auto industry are now receiving 50 percent less than what older workers receive).  More and more middle-class families are rapidly descending into poverty as they lose their jobs, their homes, their savings and their retirement benefits.

Meanwhile, while the middle class disappears and poverty increases, the wealthiest people in this country and largest corporations are doing extremely well.  Today, the top one percent earns over 20 percent of all income - more than the bottom 50 percent.  Incredibly, the richest 400 individuals in America own more wealth than the bottom 150 million. And this horrendous gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider every day.  While the CEOs on Wall Street who helped cause this recession are now doing just fine, the rate of childhood poverty in this country is the highest in the industrialized world, and continues to grow.

But it’s not just unemployment and low wages.  Fifty million Americans lack health insurance, we remain involved in two wars, our infrastructure is crumbling and we are falling further and further behind other countries in student achievement and college enrollment.  Tragically, we have not passed any significant legislation to address the planetary crisis of global warming.  Incredibly, despite huge and visible aberrations in weather patterns there is not even serious discussion that we may be approaching a tipping point which would impact the future of our planet and the well-being of billions of people. [read more]

Please join me in opposing any deficit reduction agreement that cuts Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid - programs that are of vital importance to millions of our fellow citizens.