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Op-Ed: Lawmakers must refocus on infrastructure, not their partisan pet projects

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Lawmakers must refocus on infrastructure, not their partisan pet projects
By Erica Jedynak

When lawmakers first unveiled their plans for a revamp of America’s infrastructure, it immediately became clear that, at best, lawmakers were stretching the definition of infrastructure and, at worst, were engaging in a deliberate attempt to deceive taxpayers.

Most of these proposals, unfortunately, seemed only vaguely related to infrastructure.

But rather than refocus on interstate roads and bridges, lawmakers decided to double down on these pork-filled shenanigans. Hence, Congress’ $1.2 trillion so-called “hard infrastructure” package, of which less than 10 percent is related to, well, hard infrastructure.

The second package, worth $3.5 trillion on paper but likely exceeding $5 trillion in reality, is truly a monument to Congress’ belief in the gullibility of American taxpayers. It contains exceedingly little to do with hard infrastructure. It is, instead, an effort to further entrench the federal government in our health care.

Lawmakers know this. That is why they’re attempting to pass the package through budget reconciliation — in Congress’ strange dialect, the word “budget” is as elastic as the word “infrastructure” — rather than through an up-or-down vote.

This proposal, devised by Senator Bernie Sanders, would be a nightmare for American health care.

According to news reports, the senator would like to lower the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60, adding 23 million non-seniors to the program and running up an additional tab of $200 billion over 10 years. Medicare is a program designed — we cannot forget this— to help seniors and disabled Americans.

This proposal would hurt access to Medicare and erode the coverage it offers.

That has not occurred to lawmakers, who habitually act as if the program isn’t in crisis. Medicare is projected to go broke as soon as 2026, but you wouldn’t know it from this proposal.

The package also calls for another $370 billion over 10 years to fund duplicative coverage for hearing, dental, and vision. But medically-necessary coverage is already offered under Medicare, with additional coverage under Medicare Advantage plans.

The program could cope with these extra expenses in two ways: Ration care for seniors or raise premiums. Neither is a good option.

The senator has plans for Medicaid, too, with a proposal to pressure states into expanding the program for able-bodied adults. As has happened in other states, this policy is sure to result in higher taxes or the crowding out of other essential programs.

Then, as any multi-trillion-dollar omnibus package invariably contains, there are billions in handouts for politically-connected interests in Senator Sanders’ proposal.

Framed as a benefit to health care providers and their patients, the proposal would give a $400 billion handout to home health care unions and push union organizing efforts on their behalf. This has nothing to do with infrastructure, of course – despite the blather about “human infrastructure” – but it wouldn’t help patients, either.

Insurance companies would also reap new, permanent subsidies under this proposal. High-income earners would be eligible for subsidized insurance, in a repeat of the American Rescue Plan Act, which, this year and next, helps families earning more than $250,000 a year and in some areas of the country more than $500,000 a year. Most of this largesse is going to people who already had health insurance.

How will Congress pay for all of this? With billions of dollars in new debt, $128 billion in budget gimmicks, and a draconian and unworkable drug price fixing plan — for which the cost of non-compliance is a 95 percent tax on some of the most common medications.

This would be devastating for New Jersey’s pharmaceutical industry, a huge employer in our state. Twelve of the world’s 20 largest research-based biopharmaceutical companies are headquartered, or have a large presence, in the Garden State. So do the 11 of the 20 largest medical technology companies. We are also in the top two states for the most facilities manufacturing FDA-approved products.

Representatives Tom Malinowski and Andy Kim, who hold assignments on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Subcommittee on Contracting and Infrastructure, respectively, should speak out against this.

They are well-positioned to refocus Congress’ attention on real infrastructure creation and maintenance. A partisan spending spree is not what we need right now, but some responsible leadership would go a long way.

Erica Jedynak is a Senior Advisor for Americans for Prosperity and Morris County, NJ resident.

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