Mitchell Reports | February 25, 2013
>>> in just four days congress is poised to allow a series of arbitrary automatic budget cuts to kick in that will slow our economy, eliminate good jobs and leave a lot of folks who are already pretty thinly stretched scrambling to figure out what to do.
>> the president is trying to put pressure on congress by highlighting, of course, how painful the budget cuts are going to be state by state. in michigan alone the white house now expects a $22 million cut in public education fund and another $20 million in cuts to programs that help children with disabilities. michigan senator debbie stabeno now chairs of agriculture and forestry commission and joins from you capitol hill . let's talk about the sequester because some would say doesn't congress and the white house both have only itself to blame for coming up with this plan which was to consider cuts that were too awful to even be contemplated and that day has come with no agreement?
>> well, andrea, first of all, i think it's important to back up and look at the fact that we need to come to total agreement on a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. $2.5 trillion of it we've already agreed to, and why is that important? because 80% of it is cuts, 20% of it done at the end of the year to ask the wealthy to do a little bit more. but the 80% has been focused on cutting those things that go directly to the middle class . middle class families and the vulnerable. so now when we look at what needs to be done, what we're saying is we have to have a balanced approach. that's why we've put together something in the senate that would cut things that we would agree need to be cut, but also ask the wealthy and the well connected to do a little bit more. that's what this process was supposed to be about from the very beginning. if there is a need for real entitlement cuts for down the road not triggered right away, but for changes in medicare down the road because health is the single biggest component in the explosion of the deficit, what would you be your response? you represent people who are very dependent on medicare , social security , and other entitlements.
>> well, first of all, medicare and social security are great american success stories, and i support making sure they remain strong for the future. we've already begun to make changes that are actually lowering costs, without lowering benefits. part of that health reform . we've seen medicare advantage premiums go down 7%. the budget office just indicated about a 2% reduction in what they project in medicare and medicaid because of a number of things, but part of that being changes we've already made, so there's more we can do, frankly, under a medicare . we have to allow them to negotiate prescription drug prices just like the veterans administration does for veterans, and we could bring down prices by having group discounts. there's a lot we can do while maintaining and strengthening medicare for the future.
>> would you consider changing the retirement or the eligibility age, i should say, for medicare ?
>> or any aspect of -- okay. glad to know.
>> the reason i jump in so quickly. let me just say why. it doesn't save money. it costs more money. medicare is the most efficient health care insurance plan that we have today, and there are many economists that say we would actually save dollars if more people were able to operate under medicare , be able to receive medicare while we are finding cost containment measures. i absolutely support cost containment measures, but that does not mean creating a situation where it's a voucher. you know, the republicans basically want to say go find private insurance. we'll give you a voucher to help cover it. that will increase costs as well as lowering health care for seniors. other proposals that they have that don't lower costs, but just take away medicare , make no sense. we've put in place things that, in fact, will begin to bring down costs and we need to do that.
>> senator, take me through how you envision the next couple of days going. march 1st , the sequester hits, and these budget cuts begin to be felt. people will be furloughed, people in michigan will feel the impact. perhaps not immediately, but as the days progress. what is going to then get people to the bargaining table? the threat of the continuing resolution expiring at the end of march, or will that be another debtedline that comes and passes?
>> well, andrea, i think that the first thing is we need to come up with an alternative -- pass an alternative that's much more balanced, and that's what we're going to attempt to do here in the senate. senate democrats will put this forward. whether we're get any republican support, i don't know. this would have an alternative to cuts that would take place this year between now and january. half of that would be by cutting loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and the well connected. the other half would be spending cuts. part of that -- half of that in agriculture where we would -- rather than -- i would rather have a farm bill and take the saving from our farm bill , but given the fact that that's not been passed by the house and we've not seen the action there, we take a piece that can't be justified, direct payments, and say we're not going to help farmers that don't need help, but we will help farmers that do through disaster assistance. we put together a balanced approach. small amount of cuts around defense that are connected with phasing out of afghanistan. it's much more responsible. people should be supporting that. we could come together. that would give us time between now and the end of the year to do the rest of it, which is looking at how we reach together that $4 trillion number.
>> senator stabbenow, thank you for joining us.