In the era of the 24/7 news cycle, it was easy to dismiss what looked like an impending federal government shutdown as the latest bit of political theater that would keep the talking heads yammering on until the next crisis.
But the political posturing in Washington is overshadowing the very real stakes of the federal budget fight for everyday Americans — including the hardworking families on Long Island who are struggling to make ends meet, and retired seniors.
The debate is also revealing what’s actually important to our local congressional representatives, who include Republicans Anthony D’Esposito, George Santos, Andrew Garbarino and Nick LaLota — all willing accomplices in a government shutdown gambit, thankfully unsuccessful, that prioritized the interests of big business and MAGA politics over the constituents they were elected to represent and protect.
As president of the Long Island chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans, an organization fighting to protect the rights of seniors, Social Security and Medicare, I know what’s important to me: quality, affordable health care, a reliable safety net, and a responsible government that tries to do right by its citizens and not special interests.
If Long Island’s congressional delegation was willing to join the House leadership in threatening to shut down the government to get their budget proposal passed, they must have thought it was pretty important. So what was in it?
First of all, the Republican budget proposal would end Medicare’s ability to negotiate prescription drug prices, just weeks after the Biden administration began using this new policy to start driving down out-of-pocket costs that often force seniors like me to choose between taking life-saving medicine or keeping the lights on in our homes.
The party that claims to be concerned about lowering the cost of living would do the opposite in their budget, by cutting the Inflation Reduction Act’s insurance premium subsidies. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, 13 million Americans are already saving an average of $2,400 per year on health care. In New York alone, nearly 119,000 people have saved an average of $362 on monthly premiums — and those savings are expected to keep growing. In 2025, more than 1 million New Yorkers will save an average of nearly $390 thanks to the act’s annual out-of-pocket cost cap.
The House plan would also cut $3.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health, which would stall research in cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and long Covid. That is the very definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
But that’s not all. The House Republican plan would cut $30.7 billion in funding for Medicare and Medicaid. These cuts would force roughly 3.8 million seniors and people with disabilities in New York to endure longer wait times when they call the Medicare call center. This reduction in funding would also make it harder to pay hospitals and doctors on time, creating financial challenges for health care providers across the country. And it would limit the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ ability to oversee the safety of New York nursing homes, endangering our seniors.
The list of shortsighted cuts that would only end up costing us more money in the long run includes cuts to the administrative budgets for Medicare and Social Security. So rather than demonstrating fiscal responsibility, our congressional representatives would hamstring the two largest safety net programs for senior citizens and create a future of bad service and long wait times for the people who need reliable delivery of their benefits the most.
When D’Esposito, Santos, LaLota and Garbarino ran for Congress, I don’t remember hearing them say anything about cutting senior citizens’ access to health care in their campaign speeches. So why were they following the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz down the shutdown path?
It’s time for Long Island’s congressional representatives to decide who they truly represent: their political leadership in Washington, or their constituents here on Long Island. The more than 30,000 Alliance for Retired Americans members in Long Island’s four congressional districts will be watching. And as the old political truism goes: Seniors vote!
Stanley B. Bergman is president of the Long Island Chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans.