KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

With Some Caveats, GOP And Dems Signal Willingness To Work For Accord On Taxes, Entitlements

News outlets reported on the ongoing public and behind-the-scenes discussions about the fiscal cliff, including changes to Medicare.

The Wall Street Journal: Pelosi: Too Much at Risk to Go Over The Cliff
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Sunday she wants to complete a deal to avoid a year-end fiscal crisis next month, brushing aside calls from the liberal wing of the Democratic caucus who say the country might be better off if Congress did nothing. ... Democratic and Republican leaders emerged from a meeting on Friday uncharacteristically optimistic they would find an agreement. Aides said the leaders agreed to a two-step approach that would make a down payment on deficit reduction this year, forcing decisions next year on bigger issues such as overhauling the tax code and making changes to entitlement programs such as Medicare (Hughes and Johnson, 11/18).

The New York Times: At Bipartisan Budget Meeting, Familiar Hurdles But A New Attitude 
As tentatively envisioned, a compromise would provide an immediate down payment of at least $50 billion to reduce this year's projected deficit ... Second, it would define a framework for negotiating a long-term "grand bargain" in 2013 to shave annual deficits by perhaps $4 trillion over the first decade. The framework would have separate goals for raising revenues and cutting the two types of federal spending: so-called discretionary financing that Congress sets annually for most programs, domestic and military; and entitlement spending, chiefly for Medicare and Medicaid, which by their growth in an aging population are driving projections of mounting debt (Calmes and Weisman, 11/16).

The Washington Post: Both Sides Appear Upbeat On Opening Round Of 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks 
Since Nov. 6, when Obama won reelection and Democrats made gains in the House and Senate on a pledge to make the rich "pay their fair share," Republicans have backed down from the fight. On Friday, (Senate Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell and (House Speaker John) Boehner acknowledged the need for fresh revenue to restrain a public debt that has swollen to dangerous levels — as long as Democrats agree to tackle the rising cost of Medicare and Medicaid, the biggest drivers of future borrowing (Montgomery and Goldfarb, 11/16).

The Hill: Ayotte: No Higher Tax Rates In 'Fiscal Cliff' Deal
A deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" should include entitlement reforms as well as new revenues — but not higher tax rates — Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said in the GOP's weekly address. Republicans have warmed to the idea of new revenues since President Obama's reelection, but lawmakers are still divided over whether to raise tax rates on the wealthy or find money elsewhere (Baker, 11/17).

The Hill: Obama: Only Two Paths Available On 'Fiscal Cliff'
During his weekly address on Saturday, President Obama warned Republicans that there are only two possible outcomes for negotiations over the looming "fiscal cliff." He said that either they agree to allow tax breaks to expire for the top two percent of American earners, or taxes will go up for everyone (Sasso, 11/17).

Los Angeles Times: Obama, Sen. Ayotte Talk 'Fiscal Cliff' In Weekly Addresses
Even as both parties signaled they were making progress on a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, President Obama on Saturday renewed his call on the House of Representatives to act in the short term to extend lower tax rates for the bottom tier of wage earners, saying it would boost Americans’ confidence ahead of the holidays (Memoli, 11/16).

The Associated Press: Democrats Toughen Stance On Trimming Benefits
President Barack Obama's re-election has stiffened Democrats' spine against cutting popular benefit programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Their new resolve could become as big a hurdle to a deal that would skirt crippling tax increases and spending cuts in January as Republicans' resistance to raising tax rates on the wealthy. Just last year, Obama and top Democrats were willing during budget negotiations with Republicans to take politically risky steps such as reducing the annual inflation adjustment to Social Security and raising the eligibility age for Medicare (Taylor, 11/17).

The Washington Post: AARP Uses Its Power To Oppose Social Security, Medicare Benefit Cuts For Retirees
AARP’s rejection of any significant changes to the nation’s safety net could be a major factor as policymakers seek a deal to put the government’s finances in order through raising taxes and cutting spending on federal programs, possibly including popular entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security. ... AARP opposes raising the age for Medicare eligibility on the grounds that it would increase costs for younger seniors while driving up premium costs for older ones (Fletcher and Goldfarb, 11/17).

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