Some more quick notes about that big Politico piece on what’s going on in the fiscal cliff talks. The piece makes two points about the haggling over Medicare’s future that are worth addressing. First, it says in passing that Dem aides say raising the Medicare eligiblity age is on the table. If true, that would be a nonstarter for the left.
But as best as I can determine after talking to Dem aides, this isn’t on the table. It’s something Republicans want to be part of the talks but not one Dems are seriously entertaining, at least for now. Dick Durbin and other Democrats have repeatedly said raising the retirement age is off the table. Obama reportedly signaled openness to it during the 2011 debt ceiling talks, so if some on the left still want to be vigilant about this possibility, it’s understandable — after all, ultimately Dems will likely fall in line behind what Obama wants in the end. But keep in mind Obama was in a significantly weaker position last time and may not see the need to make that concession now.
The second, and more interesting, point is that Republicans are insisting that the White House go first in laying out proposed entitlement cuts — and the White House is balking. From the piece:
A top Democratic official said talks have stalled on this question since Obama and Congressional leaders had their friendly-looking post-election session at the White House. “Republicans want the president to own the whole offer upfront, on both the entitlement and the revenue side, and that’s not going to happen because the president is not going to negotiate with himself,” the official said. “There’s a standoff, and and the staff hasn’t gotten anywhere. Rob Nabors [the White House negotiator], has been saying: `This is what we want on revenues on the down payment. What’s you guys’ ask on the entitlement side?’ And they keep looking back at us and saying, “We want you to come up with that and pitch us.’ That’s not going to happen.”
This dovetails with my reporting, too, and it’s pretty remarkable. Republicans want the White House to lay down its bottom line on both the revenue and the entitlement cut side, so they don’t have to come forward with concrete demands for entitlement cuts? In raw political terms, that’s understandable, of course — after all, entitlement cuts are deeply unpopular. This week’s Post poll found overwhelming opposition to tampering with Medicare’s core mission as it impacts beneficiaries: 67 percent of Americans — including 68 percent of Republicans and conservatives — oppose raising the retirement age. No wonder Republicans don’t want to go first!
That aside, it’s also worth noting that the White House actually has made an opening offer of sorts on entitlements. The Obama budget contained $340 billion in Medicare cuts over 10 years, mostly targeting drugmakers, providers, and high-income beneficiaries. The White House has reiterated that those are on the table. For the left, hitting middle and low income beneficiaries with higher costs will be unacceptable. If Republicans don’t think the White House’s proposed cuts are enough, that’s fine, but it should be on them to say what they want.