On Tuesday, Congress passed a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.” It passed both the Senate and the House with large majorities. The deal did not cut Medicaid or Medicare benefits.
For weeks, we’ve been explaining why Congress should not cut health care benefits for middle- and low-income families in order to reduce the deficit. And, in fact, the deal that Congress and the White House reached achieves hundreds of billions in deficit reduction without cutting Medicaid or reducing the benefits in Medicare or the Affordable Care Act. Instead, the deal allows some of the tax cuts for the highest earners to expire and tightens some tax loopholes. Supporters of our vital safety-net programs can certainly pat themselves on the back for ensuring that they were protected.
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the last of the fiscal cliff debate: Because Congress didn’t address everything on its plate, a second fiscal cliff looms in the coming months. Congress delayed the automatic cuts that would have happened on the first day of the year by two months, which is about when Congress will have to vote on raising the debt ceiling. In order to address both problems, many in Congress are going to demand yet more cuts.
We should remind them of the lessons we’ve learned. Protecting health care benefits is critical for the millions of children and seniors who rely on Medicaid, the more than half of seniors on Medicare who make less than $22,000 a year, and the middle-class families that will find more affordable insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If Congress insists on trying to reduce the deficit to avoid the next cliff, we must continue to advocate that these important programs go unharmed.
Update: To learn more about the budget deal and Medicaid, check our fiscal cliff primer here.