Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., talks about issues facing senior citizens during a meeting on Charleston's West Side on Tuesday.
ST. ALBANS, W.Va. -- Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., met with senior citizens at the Tiskelwah Center on Charleston's West Side on Tuesday morning, hearing them express concerns about Social Security and Medicare.
Later, during her remarks at a Charleston Area Alliance luncheon, Capito said the meeting with seniors was "very intense."
"There was a bit of angst at the senior center. We [in Congress] will not do any anything for the next three or four months until the election is over."
Capito told the Gazette that many "people are scared [about the future of Medicare]. They are also concerned for [younger] generations behind them."
Capito said she tried to "tear down the myth" about Medicare during the Tiskelwah meeting.
"I told them that if you are 55 or older, nothing will change. But if you are 55 or younger, we will have to change something. I tried to calm down their fears."
What will happen to Medicare when people now under 55 become eligible to collect Medicare benefits "remains to be seen. If you keep it exactly the way it is, it will go bust by 2024. But Medicare is a great plan," she said.
Capito said the Affordable Health Care for America Act, promoted and signed into law by President Obama in March 2010, will ultimately cut $700 billion in Medicare benefits.
Jared Bernstein, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., said that is the same amount cut out of the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., now running for vice president as a Republican.
Ryan's budget passed the House on March 29, by a vote of 228 to 191. Only 10 Republican members voted against it, including Rep. David McKinley, D-W.Va.
Bernstein said Ryan's proposed $700 billion in cuts would be used largely to lower taxes for the most affluent Americans, in an article published on Tuesday by "Business Insider," a New York City-based business and entertainment website.
Obama's proposed cuts, Bernstein wrote, would be used partly to fund other programs to help children and non-elderly Americans who will become eligible for Medicaid, or receive tax credits to offset costs of private health insurance, in 2014. The Affordable Health Care would also help some seniors pay for prescription drugs.
Capito said political discussions become particularly intense during election years.
Capito told people gathered at Tiskelwah, "Social Security is not a political discussion."
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., spoke at a Tuesday meeting in Huntington, hosted by the West Virginia Citizen Action Group commemorating Social Security's 77th anniversary.
Rahall criticized Republican proposals to change Social Security, which also provides disability insurance, and Medicare.
"Social Security and Medicare have helped to keep generations of working families out of poverty; they are vital to ensuring our seniors live and retire in dignity after a lifetime of labor."
Today, one of four West Virginians -- retirees, widows, and children -- receives Social Security benefits, receiving an average of $13,000 annually. In West Virginia, total payments in 2010 reached nearly $6 billion, according to a report just released by the Strengthen Social Security and Social Security Works coalitions.
Ryan's budget, Rahall said, would also make major cuts to federal investments in transportation systems, water infrastructure, education, health care and law enforcement.
Rahall said Ryan "is a leader of the Republican pack that has set its sights on privatizing Social Security, as well as Medicare, ending the traditional programs that working West Virginians have spent a lifetime paying into."
For many years, Rahall has backed Congressional efforts to strengthen Social Security and Medicare, including co-sponsoring legislation to guarantee annual cost-of-living increases for seniors.
"As long as the fanatics are out there decrying Social Security and Medicare, using deficits as an excuse to reduce health coverage and shift more costs to seniors, I am going to be out there decrying their extreme budget proposals.
"Social Security and Medicare are not the cause of our current budgetary woes," Rahall said in Huntington. "They ought not be used as a piggy bank for unrelated spending."