Utah Sen. Mitt Romney tussled Tuesday with Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden’s nominee as secretary of Health and Human Services, over his stand on abortion and Democratic proposals to expand a nearly bankrupt Medicare system.
During Becerra’s confirmation hearing, Romney asked the nominee — who is the current California attorney general and a former member of Congress — why he once voted against so-called “partial-birth abortion,” but didn’t get a direct answer. It is a form of late-term abortion where a fetus is partially delivered before it is aborted.
“There’s a division in our country with regards to the issue of abortion,” Romney said. “But most people agree that partial birth abortion is awful. You voted against a ban on partial birth abortion. Why?”
Instead of a direct answer, Becerra said he has worked for decades to protect the health of men and women. On abortion, he said, “I understand that people have different deeply held beliefs on this issue and I respect that” — and said he hopes to help seek common ground.
Romney responded, “I think we can reach common ground on many issues, but on partial birth abortion, it sounds like we’re not going to reach common ground there.”
Romney then turned to Medicare, and questioned proposals by Democrats and Biden to expand the program to more people. Biden has suggested allowing people younger than 65 to buy into it, and other Democratic presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders suggested replacing private insurance with “Medicare for all.”
“Our current Medicare program is on track to go insolvent,” Romney said. “How are we going to expand something that’s already on track to go bankrupt?”
Becerra said, “We have consensus that we have to find the solutions.”
He added, “One of the things that President Biden has proposed is to allow Americans to essentially buy into what is considered Medicare at an earlier age. But rather than use the current Medicare system” and its nearly bankrupt trust fund, “he would try to bring some revenue in from the general fund so that we’re not impacting the trust fund.”
Romney responded, “Well, we do spend a lot of money from the general fund now.” But Becerra said the “priority should be to make sure Americans have good quality health care at their avail.”
Romney said if Medicare “is already running a huge red ink program, expanding it is not going to make things easier.”
After the hearing, Romney tweeted, “Our federal trust funds — programs like Medicare — are facing impending insolvency. This alone makes #MedicareForAll a non-starter. We can’t expand something already on track to go bankrupt.
The Board of Trustees overseeing Medicare projects annual deficits in the nearly $1 trillion fund that covers in-patient hospital expenses until it is depleted in 2026. The other part, covering physician charges, outpatient hospital, is expected to be adequately financed into the foreseeable future because premiums and general revenue are adjusted each year.