This Christmas, House Republicans attempted to give America’s seniors, the working class and the unemployed a stocking full of grief as they played political poker with vital benefits that affect the livelihood of millions in our country.

Every year, Congress must act to ensure the physicians who treat patients using Medicare are reimbursed for their services. Under the leadership of Speaker John Boehner, House Republicans refused to pass a one-year extension of payroll tax cut (this legislation also includes a proposal to reduce unemployment benefits and the Medicare Doc Fix) that was overwhelmingly supported by all Democrats in Congress as well as Republicans in the Senate.

That was until the American people voiced their outrage and made it clear that any lapse in this assistance would be extremely detrimental. Unfortunately, we are only at the beginning of this fight. In order to demand that Republicans listen, we must continue to insist that an agreement on the larger payroll tax cut bill is reached quickly.

One aspect of the extension most Americans aren’t aware of involves payments to Medicare doctors, which would deal a direct blow to our seniors. Failing to reach a solution in the next six weeks could result in a sharp decrease in the number of physicians willing to accept and treat Medicare patients due to a 27 percent reduction in the reimbursements doctors receive.

Older Americans depend on Medicare to provide critical health benefits, so it is irresponsible for Republicans to put Medicare reimbursements in jeopardy, especially at a time when so many in our country are struggling to keep their finances above water.

As Congress goes back in session this week, members need to immediately begin discussing a compromise in order for the bipartisan conference committee to reach an agreement.

(Editor’s note: Both the House and Senate passed versions of the payroll tax cut extension bill but could not agree on how to pay for it. So, in a conference committee, a two-month extension through February was hammered out, and legislators must now return to craft a final resolution.)

After the holiday season, Democrats in Congress were poised to begin working on a solution early , except Republican leadership was nowhere to be found. House Republicans refused to let Democrats start the conversation on a deal, perhaps because they felt it was more beneficial that they travel to Rio de Janeiro and Paris instead of helping the nation’s most vulnerable. Now is not the time for play–this situation deserves Congress’ utmost attention, and I urge the GOP to take this matter seriously so that no American family suffers harm from a lapse in coverage. |

There is no reason that the health of our seniors should be imperiled by political gridlock in Washington, because of the Republican Party’s unwillingness to remove harmful legislative riders attached to the extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut.

The GOP would rather cut the benefits of the unemployed from 99 to 59 weeks, ask them to get tested for drugs, require people to at least have a high school diploma or GED (and the unemployed would have to pay for this), and decrease the paychecks of working families rather than listen to the cries of the American people who are begging for relief.

Just as we did in December, we must stand together and demand that the health of older Americans is not jammed into an unnecessary political fight. I am calling on you to once again make your voices heard because it is the only way that Republicans in Congress will realize the horrible effects their policies have on the middle class, working and seniors in our country. Do not hesitate to call Speaker John Boehner at (202) 225-0600, to insist that Medicare, the lifeline for so many seniors, remains intact.

Karen Bass represents the 33rd Congressional District, which includes Los Angeles, Hollywood and Culver City and was the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly.

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