Entitlement debate sparks disagreement along party lines

December 9, 2012

A pair of congressional Democrats and two Republicans in Congress appeared divided along party lines Sunday over reforming entitlements and cutting spending, as the "fiscal cliff" negotiations continue in Congress. 

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who has signaled a willingness to agree to increase taxes if Democrats agree to spending cuts and entitlement reform, reiterated the importance of the latter in any deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

"[A]s long as we continue to lie to the -- as long as we continue to lie to the American people, that you can solve this problem without adjusting and working on those programs, it is dishonest and beneath anybody in Washington," Coburn said about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said Democrats have already made meaningful spending cuts and reforms to Medicare, and called on House Republicans to pass a bill to extend middle class tax cuts that has already cleared the Senate. 

"We're making reforms in Medicare. In fact, the costs for Medicare Advantage have gone down, the premiums, by 7 percent for seniors because what we've done," Stabenow said on "This Week." "But what's going to happen at the end of the year if the House doesn't act is middle-class families are going to see a tax cut -- or a tax increase that's going to be at least $2,200 per person. And I can tell you from one of my constituents who said that's four months' groceries for her family."

Republican leaders have said their preference is to keep the current tax rates steady for all income brackets  Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the House GOP Conference chairman, explained the Republican opposition to raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. 

"No Republican wants to vote for a rate tax increase," Hensarling said on ABC. "I mean, what that is going to do, according to the National Federation of Independent Business that commissioned a study by Ernst & Young, is cost 700,000 Americans to go from having paychecks to unemployment checks."

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said that blaming Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as drivers of the deficit is a mistake. 

"I think that one of the issues that's being left alone in this whole discussion is the amnesia of how we got into this situation, who's responsible for the situation," he said on "This Week." "And to blame the three programs that we're talking about -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- as the drivers of this deficit is a mistake."

He continued: "The drivers happened long ago, two wars on a credit card, financial institutions that didn't -- that took -- abused the American people, and now we're being asked to go back to the same people that have endured this crisis and ask them to pay up again. No. No."

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan | December 9, 2012