Citing Fairness, Liberals Refuse to Consider Medicare in Fiscal Cliff Talks

During the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, we’ve heard plenty about conservatives giving in on taxes and revenues, and we’ve called on them not to abandon their principles.  Politico reports that on the other side of the aisle there is a growing number of Democrats in the Senate that are ready to make a key concession on Medicare.  What remains to be seen is how serious they are about these concessions and who on the left will be on board with their ideas.

Coming to a consensus is proving quite challenging, since many liberals fear that making any changes to Medicare, such as making it a means-tested program, will create a “slippery slope” scenario, rendering the Medicare program inaccessible to many seniors.  They claim that they only want what’s “fair” for seniors.

So, what would they be willing to do with Medicare, and what would they consider “fair”?

Some Democrats say they would be willing to consider higher premium payments for wealthy seniors.  However, most Democrats remain unwilling to change the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.  They also remain completely opposed to touching Social Security and to cutting Medicaid programs.

Let’s just tackle the age question now.  It’s by no means a panacea and cannot be used as a justification for real reform, but it seems like a fairly easy lift…except nothing in Congress is easy.

When Social Security was created in 1935, the average life span was 62, and the Roosevelt Administration set the normal retirement age to 65.  Even though the average life span had increased to 70.2 by 1965 when Medicare was created, they retained the normal retirement age of 65.  By 2030, the average life span is expected to rise to 80.7 years.

If the liberals can’t comprehend how increased life spans justify increasing the retirement age, and thus the eligibility age for Medicare, they’re not really living up to their own “progressive” standards, are they?

Even with eligibility age off the table, some Democrats may be willing to lessen their “long-standing opposition to Medicare means testing if it means the GOP will raise taxes on the top 2 percent of wage earners.”

No matter what happens with tax rates and revenues, some liberal Democrat Senators, like Max Baucus (D-MT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), aren’t willing to budge on entitlements at all.  They cite “fairness” to seniors as their motivation for not touching Medicare.  And in the House, liberal Democrats are aligned with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who said that Democrats have already “addressed the issue of entitlements.”

The idea that entitlements have been sufficiently dealt with is completely erroneous.  If they had, our country would not be on a path to spending 16 percent of our gross domestic product 25 years from now on Social Security and federal healthcare programs.  Even the Washington Post opined that this is a dangerous road to be on.  They said, if 16 percent “sounds manageable, consider this: Over the past 40 years, the entire federal budget has averaged 18.5 percent of GDP.”  That’s the ENTIRE federal budget.

Still, amazingly, the general sentiment among most Democrats is that enough has already been done with Medicare and entitlement reform.  With regard to Medicare means testing, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said that “we don’t need to do more.”

So what they’re willing to put on the table is one component (higher premiums for wealthy seniors) of one program (Medicare) when all entitlement programs, including Medicare, need a major structural overhaul so that they will be sustainable and viable in the future.

Heritage’s Robert E. Moffit has included means-testing as a reform to Medicare that is perfectly justifiable (“fair” to borrow one of the left’s favorite words), and says it would be a step in the direction to making Medicare sustainable in the long run.  He said:

If Congress were to “means-test” the premium for the income range… prescribed by The Heritage Foundation, about 90 percent of enrollees would pay only $8 per month.

He continues:

 [A]dding a premium is compatible with the principle that Medicare beneficiaries should pay for their hospitalization benefits. Many of them believe, firmly but erroneously, that they already have. While many beneficiaries sincerely believe that they paid for their Part A benefits, however, most did not pay nearly enough to cover the actual costs. In fact, most receive two or three times more in Medicare benefits than they paid in Medicare taxes.

Stuart M. Butler has also spoken about some common misperceptions about “fairness” to seniors when it comes to Medicare reform:

[S]ome seniors can get [irate] when their belief that “I’m just getting out what I paid in” is challenged. But while there is a plausible argument that on average that’s true for Medicare Part A (hospital insurance)—although it’s fast becoming less true—it’s never been the case for those seniors enrolled in Part B … or the Part D drug benefit. Nobody pays into those with dedicated payroll taxes during their working years. Both are merely subsidized, voluntary insurance plans.

That subsidy is very large for most seniors.

Unfortunately, many liberal lawmakers suffer from the delusion that preventing Medicare reforms is somehow good for any American.  It’s very easy for liberal politicians to make promises they have no way of keeping, but it’s also morally corrupt and totally unjust to future generations because “Americans face an unfunded Medicare liability of almost $37 trillion.” Conservative reforms to Medicare and other entitlements shouldn’t even be thought of as a “concession” but an obligation to the American people, including seniors.

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