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Today’s Headlines – December 15, 2011

Good morning! Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about a new approach being advanced by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to overhauling Medicare.

The New York Times: Lawmakers Offer Bipartisan Plan To Overhaul Medicare
A Democratic senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and a Republican member of the House, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, unveiled a bipartisan plan on Wednesday to revamp Medicare and make a fixed federal contribution to the cost of coverage for each beneficiary (Pear, 12/14).

The Washington Post: Paul Ryan To Announce New Approach To Preserving Medicare
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who has been castigated by Democrats and hailed by Republicans for his plan to privatize Medicare, will on Thursday unveil a new approach that would preserve the 46-year-old federal health program. Working with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the Wisconsin Republican is developing a framework that would offer traditional, government-run Medicare as an option for future retirees along with a variety of private plans (Montgomery, 12/14).

For more headlines …

Los Angeles Times: Paul Ryan Partners With Leading Democrat On Medicare Overhaul
Ryan and Wyden, who plan to discuss their plan Friday morning at a Bipartisan Policy Center breakfast, are billing the proposal as a crucial bipartisan effort to prevent Medicare spending from swamping the federal budget. “What we are trying to do here is plant the seeds for bipartisan consensus to save Medicare,” said Ryan, who earlier this year put forward a more radical voucher proposal that was adopted by House Republicans and pilloried by Democrats for essentially privatizing the federal program (Levey, 12/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Ryan Revises Medicare Plan
The concept, which is backed by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, steps back from the House budget chairman’s previous plan to end the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program for future retirees and replace it with subsidies starting at $8,000 that seniors would use to purchase private health plans. That subsidy wasn’t guaranteed to keep pace with the rate of health-care inflation, leaving beneficiaries potentially to face higher out-of-pocket costs (Radnofsky and Weisman, 12/15).

Politico: Ryan, Wyden Back A New Medicare Option
The plan has some key differences from the Ryan blueprint that Republicans had rallied around earlier this year — and which Democrats had been united in pummelling in Congress and on the campaign trail as the beginning of the end of Medicare. The biggest difference is that seniors would have a choice between staying in traditional Medicare, or opting into new private plan alternatives, the two lawmakers said in an interview with POLITICO (Haberkorn, 12/14).

The Washington Post: Payroll Tax Cut And Spending Bill Stall In Senate, Raising Threat Of Shutdown
If there was any sign of progress, it was that Senate Democratic leaders met with President Obama on Wednesday at the White House to weigh whether to drop their demand that the $120 billion payroll tax cut be paid for with a new surtax on millionaires. Republicans have rejected the idea, but it was not clear Wednesday whether that concession from Democrats would be enough to produce a deal (Helderman, 12/14).

The New York Times: Congress Takes Up A Partisan Battle, Again, Over Spending
For the third time in a year, the divided 112th Congress is dancing on the edge of catastrophe, locked in a bitter partisan battle over fiscal measures, with unrelated policy debates clinging to the side. Republicans and Democrats do not agree on how to pay for something that both sides claim to want — extension of a payroll tax holiday for almost every worker — and have until the end of the year to work it out or see the tax go up, something that most economists say would further damage the nation’s fragile economic health by taking money out of consumers’ pockets (Steinhauer, 12/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Eager To Avoid Government Shutdown, Democrats May Drop Millionaires Tax In Year-End Spending Bill
At issue now are three year-end bills that Obama and leaders in both parties in Congress say they want. One would extend expiring Social Security payroll tax cuts and benefits for the long-term unemployed, provisions at the heart of Obama’s jobs program. Another is the $1 trillion spending measure that would lock in cuts that Republicans won earlier in the year. The third measure is a $662 billion defense bill setting policy for military personnel, weapons systems and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus national security programs in the Energy Department. …  Wednesday’s maneuvering occurred the day after the House passed a payroll tax extension that contained no higher taxes. … That House measure drew a veto threat from Obama. …  The bill would extract nearly $43 billion from the year-old health care bill; extend a pay freeze on federal employees while also increasing their pension contributions and raise Medicare premiums on seniors with incomes over $80,000 beginning in 2017 (12/14).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Administration Wins Plaudits From Healthcare Law Critics
As President Obama gears up his reelection campaign, his administration is laboring to soften the impact of last year’s sweeping healthcare law in a bid to prevent further political backlash. The campaign to minimize disruptions — by easing requirements for insurers, employers, doctors and others — is winning cautious praise from some of the toughest critics of the law in the business community  (Levey, 12/14).

Politico: 2012 Fallout For Benefits Ruling?
Try to solve this one: What do you put in a health insurance plan to make it just broad enough to cover most people’s needs but not so broad that no one can afford it? That’s what the Obama administration has to do with a new set of guidance, expected by the end of the year, that could define health benefits for nearly 70 million people — and determine what much of the public will actually get out of President Barack Obama’s health care law (Millman, 12/14).

Los Angeles Times: Millions Of Young Adults Getting Coverage Under New Healthcare Law
The healthcare law signed by President Obama last year has now helped as many as 2.5 million young adults get health insurance over the last year despite the lagging economy, new data released by the federal government indicates (Levey, 12/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Under-26 Gain Insurance Under Health-Care Overhaul
About 2.5 million young adults have gained health-insurance coverage since the health-overhaul law let people stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26, according to government figures released Wednesday. The results could help President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign boost support among young voters, whose turnout figures to be crucial to his winning a second term. While the 2010 overhaul law remains unpopular with voters overall, the young-adult insurance extension has emerged as a rare selling point liked even by opponents of the law (Radnofsky, 12/15).