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White House to seniors: Be afraid of GOP cuts

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The Obama administration is fighting back against the latest budget proposal by the Republican-led House by alerting seniors that their Medicare and Social Security payments may be at risk. This represents the White House’s strongest stance yet in the budget stalemate, which again threatens to shut down the federal government.

The administration’s attempt to alarm seniors about the additional $57 billion in proposed cuts this year may not pay dividends, however, as a number of polls show an angry populace would place the blame for a shutdown nearly equally on the Obama administration and House Republicans.

Neither of the two sides was able to win over the Senate to its point of view, so the parties have been forced back to the negotiating table. So far in the debate, more Democrats have switched sides than have Republicans, meaning that the GOP may hold the advantage going forward.

The administration’s alert to seniors came from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who said Republican efforts to starve the health care reform law of funds would prevent Medicare Advantage payments and force a months-long rewriting of MA reimbursement rates.

“In a system where millions of claims are paid each week, millions of claims would accumulate, which [Medicare] and its contractors would be prohibited from paying at the Affordable Care Act rates,” explained Sebelius.

Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue made a similar claim about the House budget, saying it would prevent his agency from eliminating a backlog in disability payments and slow the distribution of basic retirement claims. “Millions of Americans filing disability claims this year would wait longer for benefits,” he said.

Republicans blasted the administration’s claims, which they said would “create unwarranted confusion and fear amongst millions of seniors.” House Republicans are working on a stopgap bill to keep the government running for another two to four weeks, similar to the continuing resolution which prevented an earlier shutdown. This bill may include some of the $6.2 billion in cuts earlier proposed by Democrats.