Obama Rejects Medicare Age Increase Stresses Jobs Fair Taxes

Roger Hickey

The Wall Street Journal and other media are reporting definitively on the Obama deficit plan to be announced on Monday. The big news: the President will not propose raising the Medicare eligibility age. So the millions of older workers and unemployed people now desperately trying to hold on until they reach age 65 will not end up resenting Democrats for trying to make a difficult life even more difficult. And young people without pensions will enjoy a little more confidence that one party is on their side.

After today, the policy choice will be even clearer: Almost all Republicans voted for Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to dismantle Medicare. And now Democrats can clearly say they will fight any attempt to cut Medicare benefits or raise the Medicare eligibility age.

Coming after the President’s $447 billion jobs plan, unveiled in his September 8 address to a joint session of Congress, many progressives were worried that the President in Monday’s speech on deficits would break his jobs momentum. We feared Obama would revert to the offers he made to Republicans in a futile effort to reach a “grand bargain” during negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

Organized under the banner of the Strengthen Social Security campaign, hundreds of groups representing labor, women, African-Americans, Latinos, youth and policy advocates had previously managed to get the White House to assure them that Social Security —which contributes not a dime to the deficit—will not be on the list for cuts, even though the President had previously made the Republicans an offer to tamper with the index by which annual benefit cuts are calculated in a way that would cut Social Security benefits. But those same groups kept the pressure on, demanding no structural changes to Medicare or damaging cuts to Medicaid.

If reports are accurate, the President now has a plan he can take to the American people, not just Washington pundits or the Super Committee. The President has listened to the people. He is pushing for jobs and growth now—the number one priority of Americans. You can question whether his economic recovery plan will do the job, but there is no doubt that his jobs plan goes generally in the right direction, compared to the bankrupt conservative program.

Now that he is not trying to placate conservative “entitlement hawks,” he is now more free to talk about deficit reduction in a way that prioritizes growth and putting people to work – and turning the unemployed into taxpayers. Obama and his aides are very clear that tax increases and spending cuts should come only after economic growth and job creation is firmly established.

The President can now join with congressional Democrats to strongly defend Social Security and Medicare. Combined with his jobs proposals, the new Obama economic message makes sense and deserves our praise. Over the longer term, America must further reform a wasteful health care system, but the President knows that the country would end up paying more for health care if we allow conservatives to cut Medicare benefits or raising the age of eligibility.

Combined, the President has laid about a program that he can take to the American people—and if the Super Committee does not embrace it, there is now a much better chance that it will make sense to the voters in 2012.

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