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.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.