More than 100 Democratic lawmakers in the House from all wings of the caucus introduced legislation on Friday to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60.
This legislation comes as Democrats are working to expand Medicare benefits through their multi-trillion-dollar spending proposal being used to fulfill much of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda. The lawmakers are introducing this legislation with the hopes of it being included in the final reconciliation package.
The legislation, which has at least 125 original co-sponsors, is led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal, who also serves as Progressive Caucus chairwoman, Conor Lamb, Susan Wild, Haley Stevens, Joe Neguse, and Debbie Dingell. The legislation also includes 10 frontline members as sponsors, who represent some of the most competitive districts in the country.
Lowering the eligibility age from 65 to 60 is widely popular across the Democratic caucus, with 70% pledging to support the measure earlier this year. It is even a priority that Biden himself has called for. Lowering the eligibility age by five years would expand Medicare to at least 23 million people, according to the cosponsors of the legislation.
In addition to trying to include a lower Medicare eligibility age in the reconciliation package, Democrats also want to use the voting maneuver, which allows them to pass legislation without relying on Republican votes, to also include a historic of expansion of Medicare to cover hearing, dental and vision care for the first time.
“Expanding and improving this wildly popular program is not only the right thing to do from a policy perspective, it is also what the majority of Americans across party lines support,” Jayapal said.
Lamb, who represents a more moderate faction of the party also backed the policy, saying in a statement, “lowering the Medicare age to 60 will help millions of Americans.”
But on Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin threw a major wrench in the plan Democrats have been building for months which centered around the reconciliation package being passed at the same time as the bipartisan infrastructure bill that already passed the Senate.
The moderate West Virginia senator called on fellow Democrats to “hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation,” which sent shockwaves throughout the party. Manchin also reportedly told Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders “hell no” when presented with the $3.5 trillion price tag, a price point many progressives already viewed as a compromise.
House and Senate Democrats had been trying to finalize the reconciliation bill by the end of the month especially since Speaker Nancy Pelosi had promised moderates a vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure package by September 27. Manchin’s comments Thursday potentially derail that carefully crafted plan that was designed to keep all factions within the Democratic party unified.
If the two bills don’t move together, Democrats, who only have a three-vote margin to gamble with, risk losing a number of progressives who have threatened to tank the bipartisan bill if the reconciliation package is not voted on at the same time.
“No infrastructure bill without the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill,” said Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats and who has been leading the reconciliation package in the upper chamber. Sanders supports lowering the Medicare eligibility age.
Jayapal said in a statement to CNN, “pause on finally delivering child care, paid leave, education, health care, affordable housing, climate action, and dental, vision, and hearing to millions of families across America? Absolutely not.”
Progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted, “Manchin has weekly huddles w/ Exxon & is one of many senators who gives lobbyists their pen to write so-called ‘bipartisan’ fossil fuel bills. It’s killing people. Our people. At least 12 last night. Sick of this ‘bipartisan’ corruption that masquerades as clear-eyed moderation.”
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