Before spending the past five years as the first Democrat on the Senate Committee on Aging, Casey investigated the conditions of nursing homes in his state as auditor general more than two decades ago. He has represented a state with an aging population and nearly 2 million people with disabilities since 2007 – and although he has supported his party on goals ranging from gun control to climate change, strengthening the social safety net clearly awakens its inner brand.
“All this talk about… wow, these families are really benefiting a lot, in dollar terms, from the federal government,” Casey recalled in a recent interview in his office, referring to GOP criticism of Democrats for endorsing 1.9 trillion dollars in Covid aid. “My response to that was, ‘Damn, let’s do more. We haven’t done this, really, for 40 years.
Bright and low-key, Casey is loved on both sides of the aisle as well as the Capitol Hill press corps, thanks to his unhurried responses to questions. In the 2020 election, he even made comparisons to Mr. Rogers, as he appeared on cable with a red sweater next to a map of Pennsylvania. (Casey still keeps the map in his office.)
Despite his calm demeanor, Casey is ready to speak out against inequalities in the tax code and pushed Democrats earlier this year to increase their social budget. While he has ignored questions about his place on the party’s ideological spectrum, claiming that these labels have “limited value”, he acknowledges that there is “no doubt” that the election of Donald Trump, which has won his state in 2016, had an influence on him.
“I knew we had to fight a lot harder against A, to prevent the bad things from happening, but B, to fight harder to make changes,” said Casey. “Some would attribute the enormity of what we’re trying to do now, relate it only to the pandemic … but I think it wasn’t just the pandemic, it was also what happened under the Trump presidency. . “
Casey’s proposal, sponsored by House Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Would increase state funding to provide care for the elderly or people with disabilities in their own homes or in their communities through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, such as as long as states meet certain criteria. The legislation would also require states requesting the funding to provide services, including family caregiver support and personal care. In addition, it includes a rate setting provision to ensure that funding increases are passed on to home care workers.
For months, the Pennsylvania Democrat has been pressuring his colleagues to back his bill, which currently has the backing of 40 Senate Democrats and will be built into the social spending plan, its final funding level does. still being unclear.
“Casey approaches us every day and we discuss this issue in every caucus,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Who arrived in the chamber the same year as Casey and has yet to sign the law. , noting that Democrats must first determine their revenue. Asked about Casey’s progress since coming to the Senate, Tester replied, “He’s a lot more outspoken in caucus.”
“He’s not doing this for a sound clip,” added Dingell, who speaks to Casey several times a week about their bicameral surge.
Supporters of the legislation argue that the investment will increase labor market participation rates – especially among women who are more likely to stop working or work part-time to care for an aging parent – and reduce Medicaid waiting lists for home and community care. services. Politics is also a top priority for the Biden administration, which initially proposed a $ 400 billion investment earlier this year.
Many lawmakers working with Casey relate personally to the subject. Dingell described the challenge of finding care for her husband, the late Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Observing that “people don’t understand how broken the system is until you have had to. face”. Senator Maggie Hassan (DN.H.), meanwhile, recalled being dependent on a caregiver while raising her son Ben, who has cerebral palsy.
“For much of Ben’s childhood, I worked part-time, because even with that kind of help [there was] his medical appointments and the possibility that he may have to leave school early due to a complication or medical need, ”Hassan said. “It’s really what made our family act and feel like other families. … I never had to share a personal anecdote with Bob Casey. He just gets that stuff.
The coalition behind the proposal ranges from disability rights groups and advocates for the elderly to workers’ organizations representing caregivers. And these groups are fighting to make sure Casey’s $ 250 billion business case doesn’t suffer further cuts. The Service Employees International Union has so far spent $ 7 million on TV and digital advertising, some of which airs in the home states of Sens. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Who are not cosponsors.
“We are very concerned about the pressure on top investment,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.
Casey acknowledges that the proposal will likely be changed in the coming weeks, despite his broad support. In fact, the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently raised the legislation to $ 190 billion, less than half of Biden’s original target. But there are more challenges ahead given that it could take years for Medicaid to fully implement the changes and Casey and other lawmakers are not yet sure how the total cost of the bigger social spending bill is. will affect the level of funding and the duration of the policy. .
“As with any big package like this budget bill, we are trying to meet competing needs,” Hassan said. “Home and community care is extremely important.”
While Casey says he’s making progress, he’s still working to convince the 50 members of the Democratic caucus, some of whom were reluctant to sign Biden’s initial $ 400 billion proposal. And describing politics is a “real educational challenge,” he said, since saying his full name takes “a lot of words.”
“Within our caucus, this required and still does require some kind of constant repetition,” Casey said.
But he bets he will win: “There’s no mystery, I think, why it’s so popular: people prefer to be at home or in the community one way or another and be able to interact with those they love and be in places they want to be.