U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) denied supporting a Republican proposal to transform Medicare into a voucher program during a debate with Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) on Saturday, despite voting in favor of such a measure in April of 2009.
The Republican Congressman has sought to distance himself from Paul Ryan’s budget throughout the campaign, highlighting his independence from the GOP. And although he voted against Ryan’s blueprint in 2011 and 2012, Rehberg seemed caught off guard when Tester reminded the Republican of his vote to weaken the popular health care program:
TESTER: In 2009, you supported a bill to make Medicare into a voucher system, so that when the seniors are out there and you guys know very well if you’re a senior that your chance of getting sick is much higher, the chance of having a pre-existing condition is much higher…. Can you tell me what your thought process was when you voted to make Medicare into a voucher system?
REHBERG: I have never voted to harm Medicare or Social Security. I’ll do everything I can, and as a promise to the seniors that I will always vote to preserve and protect Social Security and Medicare…. One of the reasons I voted against the Ryan budget, because it had changes in Medicare that I didn’t believe was in the best interest of Montana seniors. I promise to Montana’s seniors that I will always vote, I will never vote to privatize Social Security, I will never vote to privatize Medicare. I believe that they are sound, and I believe that they are be there for anybody that’s on it now or going to be on it soon.
But the 2009 budget amendment Rehberg supported would have closed off traditional Medicare for Americans 54 and younger. They would have had to purchase private coverage using “a premium support payment” that depreciates over time and pay significantly more for their health care.
Ryan’s amendment also proposed to as much as $1 trillion from Medicaid, transforming the existing funding structure (which keeps up with health costs) into a block grant for the states.