What’s Still On The Table In The Grand Bargain Talks?

Digby

Not that anyone cares, but it seems that a vast majority of the American public think raising the Medicare eligibility age is stupid:

Greg Sargent talks about this issue in depth in this post. He says that the Republicans are refusing to name their demands on “entitlement” cuts, instead saying that the Democrats must first say what they are willing to give. That’s very cute, but it doesn’t really work that way and they know it. If the Democrats are dumb enough to do that then we are all screwed.

But don’t be surprised if they do. Greg reports that Democrats are not entertaining doing this at all but I’m sorry to say that’s just not true. On raising the medicare eligibility age, there have been some powerful Dems out there endorsing it:

Kent Conrad and Chris Van Hollen have both said it. Recently. This is from November 15, 2012.

Conrad:  I wouldn’t want that to be the starting point, but as part of an overall package, that’s balanced and fair. Given that we now have exchanges to purchase insurance because of the president’s health-care reform law, it makes it much more acceptable, much more reasonable, over a long period of time to gradually increase the age given that people are living so much longer.

This is definitely on the menu. It’s not just lame duck deficit hawks:

On Capitol Hill, it isn’t clear how strenuously Democrats will resist cutting entitlements. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) said he and others were open to changes as long as they were done in a measured way and were part of deal that included tax increases. Mr. Van Hollen also said changing Social Security and increasing the Medicare eligibility age above 65 should be part of negotiations.

“I’m willing to consider all of these ideas as part of an overall plan,” Mr. Van Hollen said Tuesday at the Journal’s CEO Council.

White House officials in 2011 were in advanced talks with Mr. Boehner that would have agreed to some of these changes, notably raising Medicare’s eligibility age. That is one cause of liberals’ anxiety about how the coming talks may unfold.

Indeed. Until the administration takes that off the table, I think we would be wise to be concerned about it. After all, this didn’t come out of the blue:

In what may be one of the most under-reported stories of the debt ceiling talks, Politico’s Jen Haberkorn notes that before negotiations broke down on Friday evening, President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner tentatively agreed to gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age as part of a “grand bargain” to increase the nation’s borrowing limit:

Details of the plan were not yet finalized before the Obama-Boehner talks collapsed on Friday. But in general, the agreement called for very gradually increasing the eligibility age from 65 to 67 over about two decades, according to administration and Republican congressional sources.

One pathway would call for increasing the age by one month per year beginning in 2017 until it reached 66 in 2029. In 2030, it would increase two months per year until it hit 67.

The administration’s willingness to entertain the idea may have given “a controversial idea more legitimacy and high-profile support than it’s ever gotten before,” Haberkorn observes, and it is likely to rile progressives who question the wisdom of the compromise.

And that’s not the only problem. You’ve got Clyburn talking casually about changing to the Chained CPI just two days ago, which will effect programs all across the government including Social Security and Veterans benefits. If they want the Republicans to be the ones to own these cuts then maybe they should stop going on TV and offering them up.

I’m sorry to say that Obama’s 2011 offer is the baseline. He showed what he was willing to give up and the Republicans know it. Everyone knows it. The rest of this is kabuki around tax hikes, which was the sticking point in that negotiation as well. The cuts were never at issue since Obama was prepared to deliver them and Pelosi and Reid signed off:

That night, Obama prepared his party’s congressional leaders. He warned Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that he might return to the position under discussion the previous Sunday — that is, cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for just $800 billion in tax increases.

Would they support him?

The Democratic leaders “kind of gulped” when they heard the details, Daley recalled.

By this time, Obama had become the face of the bitter debt-ceiling talks and his poll numbers were dropping. His allies on Capitol Hill cringed at his predicament but also at what he was asking them to do.

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, recalled that the president and his team felt the weight of the global economy “on our shoulders.”

“Is there political benefit to coming to a big budget deal with John Boehner? Sure,” Pfeiffer said. “But every other political and message imperative was thrown out the door to prevent a disaster and do the right thing for the country. That’s why we were willing to do things we wouldn’t normally do.”

Reluctantly, Reid and Pelosi agreed to do their best to support the plan.

Everyone knows this happened as well.

It will be better if we just let the Bush tax cuts expire and reset. Unless they do, that earlier negotiation will haunt the Democrats.

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