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Hispanic Caucus Questions GOP Budget Bill

With the House expected to pass Republican legislation today that would cut $700 million in Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday questioned the wisdom of the move as the GOP seeks to court Hispanic voters ahead of the November elections.

“It is a very dumb move politically,” said Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D), who is the island’s nonvoting representative in the House.

Pierluisi, at a news conference on the bill, pointed to the fact that voters of Puerto Rican descent living along the Interstate 4 corridor in central Florida are a key swing-voting constituency in a key swing state.

“The fact [is] that there are 850,000 … Puerto Ricans living in central Florida and they keep in close touch with their relatives back home,” Pierluisi said. “They watch our news every day. So whoever figured this one out, at least politically, made a huge mistake because I will be the first one to let my fellow Puerto Ricans know that this is a grave injustice.”

Pierluisi said the Medicaid cut, which is a provision of a larger package to replace $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts next year, would take away scarce resources from other important needs on the island and reverse efforts to treat territories more like states, which don’t face the same statutory restrictions under Medicaid.

“If this becomes a reality, this means that the federal government would pay $2 out of every $10 spent for the needs of our medically indigent in Puerto Rico … when if you are talking about a state like Mississippi the federal government pays $8 out of every $10,” Pierluisi said. “It’s untenable … and the service provided is not the same.”

In total, the House measure would cut $6.3 billion in Medicaid spending for U.S. territories over eight years, including $700 million for Puerto Rico. The bill rolls back a Medicaid spending increase for the territories provided under the Democrats’ 2010 health care reform law.

House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), who also attended the news conference, said Republicans have a history of making questionable moves toward Latinos, including enacting anti-immigration state laws, such as S.B. 1070 in Arizona that is being reviewed by the Supreme Court, and the House bill on the floor today.

“It’s not as if we can’t say this has not become a practice,” Becerra said. “Whether at the federal or the state level, Republicans have made it very clear how they perceive Latinos and what they think the policy should be toward them, whether it’s this extremely harsh and unfair cut that hits Latinos in Puerto Rico … or the efforts to impose English as the official language.”

Republicans argue they are pushing the House to get the economy back on track and create jobs, which benefits all Americans, including Hispanics.

They also fault President Barack Obama for not leading on the spending issue.

“We have $15 trillion in debt, $1.4 [or] $1.3 trillion in annual deficits under this administration the last four years, jobs bleeding away from the country, health care challenged, no energy plan that makes any sense at all for the economy or the American people,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a member of the Budget Committee, which approved the bill Monday on a party-line vote.

“The best stimulus, the best Medicaid assistance is a paycheck,” Price said. “This administration fails to recognize that, and we are trying to correct it.”

The House package is needed because the law requires $1.2 trillion in cuts, including a $600 billion reduction in defense spending, which would take place over 10 years.

Republicans, who believe the Pentagon cannot absorb the cuts without compromising national security, want to replace the $109 billion in defense cuts set to begin next year under the sequester. They would do so by cutting $261 billion over the next decade, including cuts to a raft of programs to help the poor and elderly, as well as rolling back provisions in the Democrats’ signature health care reform law and raising pension contribution requirements for federal workers.

House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said he plans to ask the Rules Committee to allow him to offer a substitute amendment to the House bill.

The Democratic substitute would replace the cuts by requiring that millionaires pay at least a 30 percent tax, eliminating oil and gas tax breaks and other provisions.

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