KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

As Clock Ticks Toward Fiscal Deadline, Obama, Boehner Meet At The White House

Action this week is critical if a deal is to be reached this year, The Washington Post reports. Most analysts appear to agree that the contours of such an agreement are clear, but the specifics -- which include raising taxes as well as spending reductions for Medicare and Medicaid -- remain challenging and politically divisive. 

The Washington Post: Time Running Out On 'Fiscal Cliff' Deal
The contours of a deal to avert the year-end fiscal cliff are becoming increasingly clear. But progress has been slow, and time is running out for leaders to seal an agreement and sell it to restless lawmakers who so far have been given little information. … Lawmakers say action this week is vital if (President Barack) Obama and (House Speaker John) Boehner hope to win approval by the end of the year for complex, bipartisan legislation that would raise taxes, push down social-safety-net spending and lift the federal debt limit (Montgomery and Kane, 12/9).

Los Angeles Times: Boehner, Obama Talk 'Fiscal Cliff' At White House
After days of theatrics and threats from both sides, President Obama met privately with House Speaker John A. Boehner at the White House on Sunday afternoon as the two principal negotiators stepped up discussions aimed at crafting an agreement to thwart a looming budget showdown. … Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill increasingly believe they have the stronger hand over congressional Republicans in their effort to push up marginal tax rates for high-income earners. … Boehner, of Ohio, continues to press for deep spending reductions, including cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other widely popular programs, and he has said he is prepared to increase revenue by changing the tax code to lower deductions, not by raising taxes (Mascaro and Hennessey, 12/9).

The Associated Press: Obama, Boehner Discuss 'Fiscal Cliff'
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met at the White House to discuss the "fiscal cliff," while rank-and-file Republicans stepped forward with what they called pragmatic ideas to break the stalemate. The Obama-Boehner meeting Sunday was the first between just the two leaders since Election Day (Flaherty, 12/9).

Politico: Fiscal Cliff: Barack Obama, John Boehner Meet At White House
Before the meeting, top aides said there was little progress made over the weekend. But the meeting between Boehner and Obama signals a new stage in the process to resolve tax hikes and spending reductions that take hold at the beginning of 2013 (Sherman and Budoff Brown, 12/9).

The Wall Street Journal: Both Parties Divided Over GOP 'Cliff' Idea
Republican leaders are pushing what looks like a relatively painless method of slowing federal spending, one that alters how the government calculates annual cost-of-living increases for an array of programs. ... In all, budget experts figure a switch to the chain-weighted CPI would reduce the projected deficit by about $200 billion over the next decade. Of that, about $72 billion would come from increased tax revenue. It's not a huge number, but if the new index were approved, Republicans would see that as proof of Democrats' willingness to countenance changes to entitlement programs (McKinnon, 12/9).

Politico: What Medicaid Cuts Might Look Like
In the ongoing battle over the fiscal cliff, Democrats and Republicans have exchanged plenty of words about what they would or wouldn't do to Medicare. The same can't be said about Medicaid. But behind the scenes, they're going to have to work that out to give Republicans enough entitlement savings — because Republicans have been demanding big changes in the low-income health program for years, and the Democrats are nowhere close to ready for the same level of savings (Millman, 12/9).

The Hill: Democrats Warm To Medicare Change That Late Sen. Edward Kennedy Opposed
Democrats in Congress are changing their tune on means testing in Medicare, an idea the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) resisted for decades. Leading Democratic lawmakers have suggested that raising premiums for wealthy Medicare beneficiaries could be a matter of common ground with Republicans in the ongoing deficit-reduction talks. "I think that is reasonable and certainly consistent with the Democratic message that those who are better off in our country should be willing to pay a little more," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday. The idea of affluence testing is not new — wealthy Medicare recipients already pay higher premiums for doctor visits and prescription drug coverage (Viebeck, 12/8).

Politico: On Entitlements, Republicans Are Ready To Take Any Victory They Can Get
The script for a fiscal cliff deal was always supposed to be simple: Democrats would win on taxes. Republicans would win on entitlements. But what kind of victory can Republicans really hope to win? They’re going to have to lower their sights — by a lot — from the big ideas they pushed in the presidential campaign. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan wanted to turn Medicare into a competition between private plans. They wanted to scale back Medicaid, and turn it into block grants for states. Nothing like that is remotely likely now. With Obama in the White House for another four years, Republicans are looking for something much smaller, even a down payment on Medicare, that they can still call a victory (Nather, 12/9).

CBS (Video): Bowles Sees "Progress" On "Fiscal Cliff"
On CBS News' "Face the Nation," two deficit reduction experts discussed the stalled talks in Washington over the "fiscal cliff." Despite the logjam and lack of progress between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner about how to avert end of the year spending cuts and tax hikes that could throw the economy back into recession, former President Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles said he is "more encouraged" than he had previously been. … Bowles said movement is apparent because both sides have taken positions that differ from previously hardened stances. He noted Boehner's willingness to increase taxes and the president's openness to cut entitlements. Although Bowles expressed some optimism, he said the president has to go further. He said the president's proposal to cut around $350 billion to Medicare is "not enough." "We simply made promises we can't keep. We've got to face up to it," Bowles said of the health care program for seniors. "We're going to have to do more" (Caldwell, 12/9).

Politico: Corker: Obama's Offer May Be 'Best Route' For GOP
Republicans may need to concede the current tax fight to President Barack Obama, who holds the "upper hand" in that battle, Sen. Bob Corker said Sunday. "There is a growing group of folks looking at this and realizing that we don't have a lot of cards as it relates to the tax issue," the Tennessee Republican told "Fox News Sunday." "I think [that notion] has merit.... I actually am beginning to believe that is the best route for us to take." Corker said ceding to Obama and preserving current tax rates for 98 percent of Americans while allowing rates to rise to Clinton-era levels on the top 2 percent would allow Republicans to pick up the fight over spending and entitlements next year (Gerstein, 12/9).

The Washington Post's The Fact Checker: Lindsey Graham's 'Bankruptcy' Trifecta
In dismissing the administration's offer to resolve the so-called "fiscal cliff," Sen. Graham referred to the "imminent bankruptcy" of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. We have warned before that politicians in both parties are guilty of misusing such phrases as "bankruptcy" or "broke" when talking about Medicare. But Graham hits the trifecta here—Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. We take no position on whether the White House's proposals are adequate but what’s he talking about? (Kessler, 12/10).

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