Manchin pushes back against Sanders’ attempt to dramatically expand Medicare benefits

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin put the brakes on one of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ legislative priorities on Monday — substantially expanding Medicare benefits — after he warned that doing so would likely bankrupt the program.

Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, was pushing for the expansion as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. In a Saturday tweet, he wrote that he wanted to expand the entitlement program to include dental, hearing, and vision coverage, saying the expansions must be part of the larger budget reconciliation bill that isn’t likely to be anywhere near the original $3.5 trillion that Democrat leaders originally sought.

However, Manchin essentially blocked Sanders’ push when he warned that the entitlement program is already facing insolvency by 2026.

“My big concern right now is the 2026 deadline [for] Medicare insolvency and if no one’s concerned about that, I’ve got people — that’s a lifeline. Medicare and Social Security is a lifeline for people back in West Virginia, most people around the country,” Manchin said.

“You’ve got to stabilize that first before you look at basic expansion. So if we’re not being fiscally responsible, that’s a concern,” he continued.

Manchin’s position is going to be problematic for Sanders, who must also vote along with the 49 other Democrats and Dem-caucusing Independent from Maine, Angus King, in order to pass whatever reconciliation bill is finally agreed upon since all 50 Republicans are likely to vote against it.

“The expansion of Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision is one of the most popular and important provisions in the entire reconciliation bill. It’s what the American people want. It’s not coming out,” Sanders wrote in his weekend tweet.

However, Sanders’ priority of expanding the entitlement runs up against a report to Congress submitted at the end of August by Medicare’s board of trustees in which they warned the fund’s depletion date for the insurance trust fund is 2026. What’s more, the trustees said that Medicare spending is expected to rise from around 4 percent of GDP to 6.2 percent in 2045.

Manchin noted that now, especially, is not the time to significantly boost Medicare spending because this year alone, the federal budget deficit will likely reach $3 trillion, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated, adding to an already bloated national debt of nearly $29 trillion. U.S. annual GDP – the total value of all goods and commerce produced — last year was roughly $20.9 trillion.

“I’ve always said that I believe that government should be your best partner, but it shouldn’t be your provider. We have a moral obligation to provide to those who have incapacities such as physical or mental. But everyone else should be able to help and chip in and all that. So that’s my mindset,” he the West Virginia moderate said.

He also voiced concerns over a measure that is being pushed by Georgia’s two Democratic senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, which would create a new entitlement program aimed at extending health insurance to low-income Americans in states that did not build out coverage under Obamacare.

Manchin said he did not believe that the proposal is fair to states like his that did expand Medicare coverage under the Obama-era law but are then responsible for picking up 10 percent of the expanded coverage.

Under the Warnock-Ossoff plan, states taking part in the new program would not have to pick up additional costs, which is confusing to Manchin. “I’m trying to understand that better,” he said, according to The Hill.

“There’s an understanding that we’re trying to look at that in a way is not an expansion. It’s basically a service, so it’s supposed to be all 50 states,” he said, going on to argue that the states who refused to participate in expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare should not get their additional expenditures paid for by federal taxpayers.

“The problem with that one, right now we’re paying 90-10. So 10 percent is being paid for all the states. For states that held out to be rewarded 100 percent is not fair,” he said.

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