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Democratic congressional candidate Dana Balter speaks at a meeting of the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans' central New York chapter Friday. 

EAST SYRACUSE — Central New York union retirees embraced Democratic candidate Dana Balter's message Friday, and she pledged to preserve Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security if she's elected to Congress. 

Balter, D-Syracuse, was the featured speaker at a New York State Alliance for Retired Americans' central New York chapter meeting. She is challenging U.S. Rep. John Katko, a Republican, in the 24th Congressional District race. 

In her remarks, Balter sought to dispel the notion that the social insurance programs are "entitlements." For years, congressional Republicans have discussed the need for reforming Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. When outlining proposals to alter the programs, they often refer to it as "entitlement reform." 

Balter said the programs are earned benefits, not entitlements. 

"We pay into these systems our entire lives so that when we need them they will be there for us," she explained. "We cannot allow our government to undermine that contract. We have to protect it." 

A central part of Balter's campaign platform is her support of Medicare-for-all, an expansion of the existing health insurance program that would provide a basic level of coverage to every American. She has faced criticism from the GOP for supporting Medicare-for-all, and a recent ad released by Katko's campaign describes it as a "government takeover" of health care. The ad warns that the expansion would "destroy Medicare." 

Balter questioned the claim that Medicare would be destroyed if it's expanded to cover all Americans. 

"We should be making Medicare available to everybody," she said. "We need to protect this program. We have to guarantee everybody has health insurance and health care. Medicare is the way that we do it." 

She added, "It is ridiculous to say it is a government takeover of health care. Who do you think runs Medicare?" 

The social insurance programs received renewed attention after passage of the tax reform legislation in late 2017. House Speaker Paul Ryan said in an interview that "entitlement reform" would be a priority to help lower the debt. 

A Congressional Budget Office estimate released this year found the tax law could add $1.9 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. That projection led to calls from some GOP lawmakers for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security reforms. 

But Pat Greenberg, a retired Crouse Hospital nurse and Balter supporter, doesn't believe that's the right approach. She said she believes in the programs like she "believes in air and water," and shared the story of her elderly parents. Her parents, she continued, wouldn't survive without Medicaid and Medicare. 

"Dana knows that health care is a fundamental right," she said. 

Despite GOP calls for reform, Katko has maintained that he wouldn't vote to dismantle Medicare and Social Security. At an Auburn public forum in August, an attendee asked him whether he would support cutting Medicare and Social Security to lower the debt. 

Katko, a supporter of the tax law, came out against cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. But Balter and Democrats in Congress want to do more for the programs. 

"We on the Democratic side of the aisle are working to protect Medicare," she said. "I will be a voice in Congress who will never give up on protecting Medicare, making sure that access remains for everyone." 

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