KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Gridlock Continues Despite Push To Reach Debt-Ceiling Deal

Democratic and Republican leaders are preparing their own backup plans as possibilities for a bipartisan approach appear increasingly dim. Both political and policy-oriented differences are making the process difficult. Medicare, Medicaid, other entitlement programs and even Tricare are in play. All the while, the deadline continues its approach.

The New York Times: Rival Debt Plans Being Assembled By Party Leaders
The House speaker, John A. Boehner, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, were preparing separate backup plans to raise the nation's debt ceiling on Sunday after they and the White House were unable to form a bipartisan plan that would end an increasingly grim standoff over the federal budget (Steinhauer and Cooper, 7/24).

The Washington Post: Obama Takes Political, Policy Gamble On 'Big Deal'
When President Obama last spoke to the nation, he said he was ready to make Republicans an offer they couldn't refuse. In exchange for trillions of dollars in cuts, including to Medicare and Social Security, Republicans would have to agree to a fraction of that in increased tax revenue. … Obama's political advisers have long believed that securing such an agreement would provide an enormous boost to his 2012 campaign, according to people familiar with White House thinking. … The risk for Obama now is that his pursuit of a far-reaching package could deeply disappoint his Democratic allies. … By calculating that an ambitious plan to reduce the nation's debt by $4 trillion over 10 years is so important, he's willing to endanger one of the best weapons in his party's arsenal - the argument that Democrats will protect Medicare and Social Security at all costs (Goldfarb, 7/24).

Los Angeles Times: Debt-Ceiling Standoff Grinds On
The day ended with the two dueling plans trying to avoid the grim fate of roughly half a dozen proposals put forth in recent weeks, a period of especially dramatic political theater and little legislative progress. Every other proposal has imploded when it could not bridge the now-familiar gulf of differences between the two sides or overcome factions within the parties. Along with the dollar-for-dollar increase, Republicans have refused any proposal that raises taxes. Obama and congressional Democrats have sought a long-term increase - and insisted that any large package achieve deficit reduction by also raising revenues. But the constant negotiation has yielded substantial common ground (Hennessey and Parsons, 7/24).

The Wall Street Journal: Gridlock For Debt Talks
Congressional leaders from both parties were developing competing deficit-reduction plans, but they released only broad outlines and few details. Several aides stressed the plans were still evolving. One currently under discussion, a plan from House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), would cut the budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years and raise the debt ceiling in two phases - one that would enable the government to cover its bills through the end of the year, and a second in January 2012 depending on recommendations from a congressional commission. … Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said in a written statement Sunday evening he is pushing ahead with a plan for $2.7 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, along with an increase in the debt limit sufficient to carry the government through the end of 2012 and no increase in tax revenue. The details of the cuts had not been finalized, but none of them would be to entitlement programs like Medicare, a Democratic aide said (Lee and Bendavid, 7/25).

The Hill: Budget Ax Is Poised As Debt-Ceiling Deadline Nears
It's down to the wire for debt-ceiling negotiators as they enter the final week before Aug. 2. That's the drop-dead date for the U.S. to raise the $14.3 trillion limit on how much it can borrow or start defaulting on some of its obligations, according to the administration. Health care lobbyists and advocates will be ramping up efforts to prevent cuts to their cherished programs as the White House and congressional Republicans hammer out entitlement cuts that could help a debt ceiling increase clear the GOP-controlled House. At this point, the attention is focused on negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the White House to cut the deficit by a reported $3 trillion; talks are expected to continue through the weekend even though Congress won't be in session (Pecquet, 7/25).

Los Angeles Times: Deficit Talks Strain Obama's Bipartisanship Goals
Obama has pushed congressional leaders from both parties to set aside partisan differences. He has urged them to pass a sweeping plan that, he says, would cut trillions of dollars from the nation's debt and shore up Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare for years to come. White House aides believed an achievement on that scale would prove that Obama could overcome the acrimony that has crippled the political process, and help his standing with independent voters who are at the heart of his 2012 reelection strategy. Instead, after negotiations appeared to collapse Friday night, Obama's options narrowed (Nicholas, 7/24).

The Fiscal Times: Monday Catch-up: Fear and Loathing in Washington
In framing a question for Treasury Secretary Tim Geither, Fox Sunday's Chris Wallace [asked]: ... "But why have you had no plan?" ... "Chris, that's not fair," said Geithner. "I know the Republican leadership says it. But it's just not true. … The Republican plan that passed the House of Representatives and the Republican brought forth in the Senate would, in the estimate of the CBO, require beneficiaries of Medicare to pay $6,500 a year more for Medicare benefits than they do today. ... if you try to [balance] our budget without revenues, with tax reforms that raises revenues, then you are forced to put in place exceptional harsh cuts not just for Medicare beneficiaries but for Medicaid (Scotti, 7/25).

CNN: Pawlenty To Obama: 'Quit Hiding In The Basement' Over Entitlement Reform
In an exclusive CNN interview, Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty unleashed unusually caustic language against President Obama on Friday, claiming the president is "ducking, bobbing and weaving" to avoid offering specifics on entitlement reform. … "Where is his specific Medicaid reform proposal?" Pawlenty said of the president. "Where is his specific Medicare reform proposal? Where is his Social Security reform proposal? The answer is: he doesn't have one. You can't find him publicly talking about that. He's ducking, he's bobbing, he's weaving, he's not leading and that's not the kind of president we need. And that's why he needs to be removed from office" (Travis, 7/22).

The Washington Post: Tom Coburn's Cuts: Military's Tricare Prime Health Care Program Targeted
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to cut taxpayer funding for non-military elements of the Defense Department, starting with making retired, uninjured service members pay more for what he described as "extremely low-cost health care for life" for themselves, their spouses and dependents under the Tricare Prime system (Pincus, 7/24).

NPR's Shots blog: History Shows Medicare Can Be Cut While Sparing Beneficiaries
Because Medicare is such a huge budget target, "we've had a series of cuts, year after year, decade after decade," says Joe Antos, a health economist with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. How big a target is Medicare exactly? This year the Congressional Budget Office figures the program for the elderly and disabled will spend $562.8 billion. Even with all the cuts to Medicare over the years, Antos says, "We've hardly ever directly touched beneficiaries" (Rovner, 7/22).

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