KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama, Boehner Trade ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Offers, Express Optimism About Possible Deal

President Barack Obama's latest offer does not include a Republican proposal to increase the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports on how health care spending is driving the nation's debt, while USA Today details a new poll showing the public favors the president in the fiscal talks.

The New York Times: Obama’s New Offer On Fiscal Crisis Could Lead To Deal
The offer is close to a plan proposed by the speaker on Friday, and both sides expressed confidence that they were closing in on a major deficit-reduction plan that could be passed well before January, when more than a half-trillion dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts would kick in (Weisman, 12/17).

The Washington Post: Obama, Boehner Move Closer To ‘Cliff’ Deal
Obama laid out a counteroffer that included significant concessions on taxes, reducing the amount of new revenue he is seeking to $1.2 trillion over the next decade and limiting the hike in tax rates to households earning more than $400,000 a year. … Obama also gave ground on a key Republican demand — applying a less-generous measure of inflation across the federal government. … In addition, Obama increased his overall offer on spending cuts. … Meanwhile, the possibility remains that the deal could get even more distasteful for Democrats, particularly if Republicans counter Obama's request for $1.2 trillion in new taxes with a demand for an additional concession on health care, such as raising the eligibility age for Medicare beneficiaries from 65 to 67 (Montgomery and Kane, 12/17).

Los Angeles Times: Boehner, Obama Meet Amid Optimism On 'Fiscal Cliff'
Boehner made a substantial shift over the weekend by offering to raise tax rates on those making more than $1 million a year, a significant change from Republican orthodoxy against higher tax rates. Aides described it as an optimistic overture, even though the White House did not accept the proposal. … By proposing the rate hike on the super wealthy, Boehner can be seen as offering a substantial compromise toward Obama, even though the offer falls short of the president’s preferred approach. … At the same time, the spending cuts Boehner would extract in exchange for the new tax revenue would likely be severe -- changes to Medicare, Medicaid and other social safety net reductions that Democrats would resist (Mascaro and Hennessey, 12/17).

The Wall Street Journal: With New Offers, Fiscal-Cliff Talks Narrow
The president's offer notably didn't include a Republican proposal to increase the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, an idea opposed by many Democrats. And to blunt Democratic resistance to changing the formula for calculating Social Security benefits, his plan would include protections for beneficiaries of the program deemed "most vulnerable," people familiar with the talks said (Lee, Hook and Paletta, 12/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Softens Stance On Taxes As He And Boehner Seek A 'Fiscal Cliff' Compromise
And in a move sure to create heartburn among some congressional Democrats, Obama is proposing lower cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries, employing an inflation index that would have far-reaching consequences, including pushing more people into higher income tax brackets. … In making his offer, Obama stiff-armed Republican demands to increase the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, a goal Democrats strongly reject. He also sought to contain cuts in Medicare and other health care programs to about $400 billion over 10 years, less than what Republicans want (12/18).

Politico: Obama Makes New Offer To Narrow Gap On Cliff
But questions remained over whether Boehner could sell the key points to Republicans at a pivotal meeting Tuesday. The progress is fragile, and the next 24 hours are critical as lawmakers from both parties and interest groups on all sides weigh in (Budoff Brown and Bresnahan, 12/18).

CNN: Fiscal Cliff Talks Centered On GOP $2 Trillion Proposal
Democratic sources tell CNN part of the issue now is that the trillion in spending cuts comes from some changes to entitlement programs such as reforms to Medicare – along with a discussion of raising the eligibility age. These Democratic sources say it is unclear if those Medicare changes could pass the House or Senate, because they may be too deep for many Democrats. Pushing the talks to a new stage, Speaker Boehner relented over the weekend on his opposition to any tax rate increases, and proposed that tax rates be allowed to go up on those making a million or more per year. In addition to new revenue from the wealthy, Boehner is also proposing closing some tax loopholes and limiting some deductions. As he has in previous offers, the speaker is also pushing for the White House to agree to change the way inflation is adjusted for federal benefits like Social Security (Walsh and Bash, 12/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Beneath Budget Battle, A Health-Spending Juggernaut
Is all this talk of the "fiscal cliff" making you sick? Actually, it's the other way around: The biggest long-term driver of the federal budget and its eye-popping deficit is health care. The government dollars go out the door through a variety of programs: benefits for federal workers, the military and veterans; Medicaid coverage for the poor and disabled; and the biggest slice of all, Medicare, the health-care program serving the elderly (Meckler, 12/ 17).

USA Today: Poll: Public Favors Obama In 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks
According to the latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 66% said the two negotiators should compromise "on their principles and beliefs" on taxes and spending to avert the year-end "fiscal cliff" … Boehner is also seeking deeper spending cuts, particularly to entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, in exchange for more revenue. … Possible entitlement reforms such as raising the eligibility age for Medicare benefits and changing the way the government calculates cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries have been presented by the GOP. Both proposals face strong opposition from Democrats, who have not included entitlement benefits in their spending cut proposals (Page, 12/17).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.