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‘Back Off Our Benefits’ campaign travels through Durango

Progressive movement attempts to preserve federal programs through cross-country tour
Courage for America spokeswoman Laura Packard speaks at the “Back Off Our Benefits” bus tour Monday at Buckley Park in Durango. Members of the group are traveling across the country petitioning against any effort by U.S. House Republicans to cut programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veteran’s benefits programs. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

A U.S. House accountability campaign called Courage for America made a pit stop in Durango on Monday for its “Back Off Our Benefits” bus tour.

The tour, which started March 30 in Bakersfield, California, is visiting key house majority districts to tell Republican representatives not to cut benefits like Social Security, Medicare and veteran’s programs because of the federal deficit crisis.

It is estimated that the government could enter debt default as early as July if Congress does not raise the $31.4 trillion debt limit.

The purpose of the Durango visit was to ask U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert not to cut the programs in response to the deficit crisis. Courage for America campaign members said they attempted to contact Boebert but did not receive a response.

In an email Monday to The Durango Herald, Boebert’s press secretary Jake Settle said the congresswoman supports the House Freedom Caucus’ plan to balance the budget without cutting Social Security or Medicare.

The Courage for America displayed a poster-size mock-up of a Social Security card asking Boebert to promise her constituents to protect the social safety net programs.

A Courage For America poster asks U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert not to cut various programs as a means to alleviate the government’s deficit crisis. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

“We anticipated the likelihood of Republicans taking the House and we knew that under speaker McCarthy, there was going to be a real need to keep a close eye on this agenda and what they're choosing to focus on,” said Courage for America spokeswoman Emily Leach.

The group made Bakersfield its first stop because it was near Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s District office. McCarthy said in January that there would not be cuts made to Medicare or Social Security, but Courage for America members are not convinced.

Courage for America spokeswoman Laura Packard said members are concerned House Republicans have not released a budget.

“It's unclear exactly what they're going after,” Packard said. “The Republican Study Committee released a budget and that did call for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and for raising the age of eligibility, which is in fact a cut,” Packard said.

The Republican Study Committee plan intends to cut Social Security by 4%, Medicare by 24%, Medicaid by 49% and other spending that includes veteran’s health, education and law enforcement by 49%, over the next 10 years.

The plan also advocates for changes to Medicare, which would increase the eligibility age to 67 from 65 and increase premiums for higher earners and reduce them for lower earners.

The conservative caucus said it would consider raising the debt ceiling if legislation were passed to enact its plan, according to a news release from the group.

The plan includes cutting spending by ending President Joe Biden’s student loan bailout; rescinding unobligated, unspent COVID-19 funds; recouping $80 million in IRS expansion funds; and doing away with climate change spending through the Inflation Reduction Act.

The Freedom Caucus also wants to impose “Clinton-era” style work requirements on various federal benefit programs like Medicaid. In addition, the conservative caucus would like to cap overall discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels for the next 10 years while allowing for 1% growth per year, which would be a $131 billion cut in fiscal year 2024.

The Courage for America speakers advocated for increasing the debt ceiling without cutting Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and other federal benefits programs.

Packard is a cancer survivor and said the Affordable Care Act saved her life because it allowed her to afford treatment. She is concerned if the program is cut, people in similar situations won’t be able to afford to receive care.

U.S. Navy veteran Chad Flannery is traveling with the group across the country.

“They shouldn’t be touching anyone’s benefits,” Flannery said.

He added that the term “benefit” was a misnomer. Those who chose to serve in the military signed their lives over to protect the country, and to cut those programs would be a disservice.

He said veterans across party lines were concerned about having benefit programs cut.

“It almost seems like they're trying to pit us against one another because they've said numerous times they won't come after these benefits,” Flannery said. “But it seems like that's what they’re trying to do.”

Executive Director for the Southwest Center for Independence Kelsey Bell spoke about her experiences with Medicaid. Bell was born with a disability that resulted in her needing a prosthetic leg and said that Medicaid covered her prosthetic care and doctor’s visits.

“Cuts to Medicaid for people with disabilities would be devastating and we're talking about literally a life-or-death situation,” she said. “Without Medicaid, there are people in our community who would not be able to live independently.”

The Durango stop is among 14 destinations the tour is making across the country. The campaign will be heading to St. Louis on April 5 and its final stop will be in Washington, D.C., on April 17, which will be McCarthy’s 100th day as Speaker of the House. The group plans to deliver signed petitions from the tour.


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