An eventful day in the national health care debate played out in Colorado politics Thursday when U.S. Rep. John Salazar said he plans to vote for the amended health care bill, citing new deficit reduction estimates that Colorado’s GOP chairman called “a joke.”
“I am going to be supporting the health care reform proposal that will be voted on Sunday afternoon,” said Salazar, a Democrat from the San Luis Valley. “It is the single largest deficit reduction bill that I will ever vote on.”
Salazar represents Routt County and the rest of the state’s Third Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House is expected to vote Sunday on health care overhaul legislation intended to expand coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, among other sweeping changes. Salazar said one reason for his support of the bill is preliminary cost estimates that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, released Thursday morning. The CBO said implementing the bill would cost $940 billion throughout 10 years but would reduce the national deficit by a net of $138 billion in that time period. Democratic leaders said the bill would reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion in its second decade. Much of the deficit reduction would come from cuts to Medicare spending and a tax increase for higher income brackets.
“If we really are serious about lowering our national deficit, we have to address the issue of health care” and lower its costs, Salazar said.
Touting the health care bill’s potential to reduce the deficit could be a key political move for Democrats looking to sway fiscally conservative members of their party and achieve the 216 votes needed for House passage.
“I believe that we will have the votes by Sunday, if we do not have them now,” Salazar said. “I’m almost sure we probably have them now.”
Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said Thursday that the deficit reduction estimates are inflated.
“The CBO estimate is a joke. John Salazar’s boss, (Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi, has plugged a bunch of garbage into the CBO in order to get this ridiculous number,” Wadhams said.
Wadhams was traveling Thursday and not able to immediately provide an example of inflation in the deficit reduction figures. But he did say that according to the bill, “the taxes start being collected by the federal government immediately, but the benefits don’t start for four years — that’s one of the gimmicks the House Democrats are playing with.”
According to Salon.com, the House Republican Conference sent a mass e-mail Thursday afternoon stressing the preliminary nature of the CBO figures that the committee said give only a “rough outlook.”
Salazar acknowledged tax increases in the health care bill but said they apply to the wealthy rather than the working class. He said the bill would apply Medicare taxes to net investment income for every jointly filed tax return with a gross income of more than $250,000, and for every single-filer return with gross income of more than $200,000. Medicare tax currently does not apply to net investment income, he said.
“This isn’t taxing the working class citizens of this country — it only has a tax for the super-wealthy,” Salazar said. “We’re addressing those folks who are young working families … or those who are making too much to be eligible for Medicaid but can’t afford the high cost of insurance.”
The Third Congressional District spans 29 counties across western and southern Colorado. Documents released by Salazar’s staff, from the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, state that middle-class tax breaks in the health care bill could help 184,000 households that earn less than $88,000 in the district.
The health care proposal also would end the denial of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes. The committee document states there are 18,600 uninsured people with pre-existing conditions in the Third Congressional District, which has 106,000 Medicare beneficiaries.