Reasons for optimism about the Medicare age?

December 13, 2012

 


Meet the Press via Getty Images

This Associated Press story is burning up the wires:

Durbin: White House won’t increase Medicare eligibility age

One of President Barack Obama’s top Senate allies says he’s been assured by the White House that the president won’t yield to GOP demands to increase the eligibility age for Medicare.

The story reports Durbin said he’d been told that increasing the eligibility age from 65 is “no longer one of the items being considered by the White House.” Which would be great, except that Durbin apparently did not hear this from the White House. Here, courtesy of Durbin’s office, is what he said:

“My understanding is that it is no longer one of the items being considered by the White House.”

That is obviously not the same thing. That said, I think there are reasons for cautious optimism that raising the Medicare age may not be on the table to the degree the rumors suggest. Durbin’s quote, while not conclusive, is definitely a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi today drew her hardest line yet against the idea:

“Don’t even think about raising the Medicare age,” she said during her weekly press briefing in the Capitol. “We are not throwing America’s seniors over the cliff to give a tax cut to the wealthiest people in America. We have clarity on that.”

That is not a small thing. Beltway commentators like to say Pelosi will have little influence over a final deal, and there’s something to that. But if John Boehner does cave on taxes, you could see large Republican defections, meaning dozens and dozens of House Dems will be needed to pass a final deal. This means the White House may have to give at least some weight to Pelosi’s declaration.

 What’s more, the reaction from Democrats and liberals alike has been swift. It doesn’t hurt that the Center for American Progress, which is allied with the White House, has been banging the drum very hard against an age hike, arguing that it could leave over 400,000 people uninsured and undermine a key goal of Obamacare. The idea has been clearly revealed as a non-starter for a great many Congressional Democrats. For many of them, the idea of taking Medicare benefits away from folks in their early 60s, as diseases set in and 65 is now within reach, is morally unconscionable. Congressional aides believe this message has been made very clear to the White House.

All of which is to say that kicking up a fuss about this has been a good thing. There’s every reason for people with strong feelings about it to continue making those feelings known until it has been officially taken off the table.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | December 13, 2012