In early December, the fears on the left about Medicare were acute and widespread. Reports indicated that President Obama was so eager to cut a "grand bargain" debt-reduction deal with Republicans he was prepared to raise the program's eligibility age from 65 to 67. It's a terrible and unpopular policy, which GOP leaders wanted desperately.
In time, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) walked away from another overly generous White House offer, and the threat faded. Any chance we might see the proposal make a comeback? Apparently not.
For those who can't watch clips online, this was the exchange in yesterday's White House press briefing between press secretary Jay Carney and ABC's Jonathan Carl (via Joan McCarter).
Q: Jay, yes, can you just clarify for me very clearly -- is the President open to raising the eligibility age for Medicare?CARNEY: No.Q: Absolutely not?CARNEY: The president has made clear that we don't believe that that's the right policy to take.
Boehner's office condemned the remarks, but (a) they had their chance; (b) if they want to fight for a wildly unpopular policy, I don't imagine the White House will mind; and (c) since we're still waiting for the Speaker's debt-reduction plan, it's a little tough to take the outrage seriously.
But for proponents of the social insurance programs, the news wasn't all good.
In the same press briefing, there was also this exchange:
Q: What about reducing the annual cost of living increases for Social Security recipients?CARNEY: Again, as part of a big deal, part of a comprehensive package that reduces our deficit and achieves that $4-trillion goal that was set out by so many people in and outside of government a number of years ago, he would consider that the hard choice that includes the so-called chain CPI, in fact, he put that on the table in his proposal, but not in a cherry-picked or piecemeal way. That's got to be part of a comprehensive package that asks that the burden be shared; that we don't, as some in Congress want, ask seniors to bear the burden of further deficit reduction alone, or middle-class families who are struggling to send their kids to college, or parents of children who are disabled who rely on programs to help them get through.That's just not fair and it doesn't make economic sense -- because the choice would be, let's do that, but hold harmless the wealthy; let's do that, put the burden on seniors alone, but not close loopholes in our tax code that are available to wealthy individuals or corporations, but not to average folks or small businesses. And that doesn't make any sense.How do you explain to a senior that we're doing this, asking you to sacrifice, but we're not saying that corporate jet owners should lose their special tax incentive; we're not saying to oil and gas companies who are making record profits that they should forego these huge subsidies that taxpayers provide? That's not fair and it's not good economics.
So, Medicare's eligibility age is off the table, but chained CPI remains on it.
As for why the White House was open to the Medicare change in December but no longer, keep in mind that the intentions surrounding a "grand bargain" have changed -- since then, Democrats picked up an additional $650 billion in new revenue. President Obama wants/needs more, but he expects to get it through tax reform, making the Medicare cut entirely unnecessary.
Besides, just because Obama was willing to stick his neck out that far two months ago, and Boehner wasn't in a position to appreciate just how good the offer was, there's no reason for the president to do it again.