WASHINGTON — With a Senate showdown looming, the politically potent AARP rode to the rescue of Democrats on Wednesday, supporting $460 billion in Medicare cuts to help pay for landmark health care legislation.
As Republicans pressed to restore the cuts, the AARP said Democrats merely were recommending elimination of waste and inefficiency within the giant health care program for seniors.
"Most importantly, the legislation does not reduce any guaranteed Medicare benefits," A. Barry Rand, the AARP's CEO, said in a letter to senators.
Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain, said seniors would lose some of their add-on benefits that are part of coverage under private insurance Medicare.
"Above all, we must not use Medicare as a piggy bank" to pay for other programs, the Arizona Republican said.
Democrats, sensitive to the charges, rallied behind an alternative proposal by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., saying the bill would cause no reduction in guaranteed Medicare benefits.
Votes were scheduled for today on the issue and a women's health care amendment. Both issues have dominated early debate on health care legislation that President Barack Obama has urged Congress to enact.
The parties maneuvered for political advantage on women's health, as well, each backing a promise to provide new no-cost preventive procedures, such as mammograms.