Support Elusive For Debt Panel As Wednesday Deadline Nears
The chairmen of a bipartisan panel appointed by President Barack Obama are altering an early draft of recommendations to reduce the nation's debt, in hopes of attracting broader support, The Wall Street Journal reports. Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican (former) Sen. Alan Simpson "need 14 of the 18 members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to support their proposal in order to issue a formal recommendation, which could then be voted on by Congress before the end of the year. ... Earlier this month, Messrs. Bowles and Simpson proposed a series of changes to U.S. spending and tax policy that would hold down the growth of the federal debt by roughly $3.8 trillion by 2020. They included changes to Medicare, Social Security, defense spending and other areas." The debt is deepening as the population ages and health costs head upwards (Paletta, 11/29).
The changes would require political support for unpopular measures such as cutting Medicare and boosting the retirement age, USA Today reports. "Baby Boomers will begin turning 65 in January. They're living longer and requiring more care, the costs of which are rising faster than inflation. Medicare's projected 75-year obligation, according to the Treasury Department: $38 trillion" (Wolf, 11/29).
Meanwhile, liberal groups plan to offer ideas that would avert domestic spending cuts in favor of taxes on the rich and lower spending on the military, according to The New York Times. "The proposals from two sets of liberal advocacy groups highlight the deep ideological divides surrounding efforts to deal with the nation's budgetary imbalances. Inside the [debt-reduction] commission, expectations remain low that a supermajority can agree on a plan. ... Congressional Republicans, including Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who has a comprehensive conservative plan, would repeal the new health care law. Mr. Ryan would also privatize Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in the future. In contrast, the liberal and centrist plans would expand on the new law's long-term savings policies" (Calmes, 11/28).
Politico: "One Democratic commission member said over the weekend that the past week of consultations 'has made some good progress. I think we're going to surprise some people.'" Still, "Some wonder whether the president himself designed the commission to fail and thus rescue him from decisions that could alienate supporters," such as Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who surmised the panel is merely an effort by Obama to sweep difficult issues "under the carpet" (Maggs, 11/29).
Humming in the background of any major discussion of debt is the rise of health costs - and more recently, whether the new law will do anything to curb them. Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt tells The Fiscal Times that when it comes to cost-saving measures, "[t]here actually isn't much to speak of. There's hope and prayer in the bill. There's a provision for comparative effectiveness analysis of different therapeutic approaches, including different drugs and so on. But I think that's a fringe thing" (Greenwald, 11/28).
The Associated Press: Also, as the discussions surrounding debt reduction continue, "[j]ob-based health care benefits could wind up on the chopping block if President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans get serious about cutting the deficit. Budget proposals from leaders in both parties have urged shrinking or eliminating tax breaks that help make employer health insurance the leading source of coverage in the nation and a middle-class mainstay. The idea isn't to just raise revenue, economists say, but finally to turn Americans into frugal health care consumers by having them face the full costs of their medical decisions." Labor unions are preparing to fight the cuts: "Tampering with health care tax breaks is 'a terrible step in the wrong direction,' said Mary Kay Henry, the new president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents many hospital workers. 'We want the middle class stabilized, not destabilized'" (11/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.