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White House won't yield to GOP on Medicare eligibility age, top Democrat says

By Andrew Taylor

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:19 a.m. HST, Dec 13, 2012

WASHINGTON » One of President Barack Obama's Senate allies said today that an increase in the Medicare eligibility age is "no longer one of the items being considered by the White House" in negotiations with top Republicans on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff.

Obama's fellow Illinois Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin, however, told reporters that he did not get the information directly from the president or the White House. But he is regularly apprised of the status of negotiations.

Increasing the eligibility age is a key demand by Republicans seeking cost curbs in popular benefit programs in exchange for higher tax revenues.

Durbin's remarks came as a frustrated House Speaker John Boehner again accused President Barack Obama of dragging out negotiations on any agreement to avoid a "fiscal cliff" of wide-ranging tax increases and spending cuts that will automatically be triggered in less than three weeks. The two sides appear far apart, and Boehner is scheduled to return home to Ohio on Friday, his office confirmed, though he remains available for negotiations by phone.

"Unfortunately, the White House is so unserious about cutting spending that it appears willing to slow-walk any agreement and walk our economy right up to the fiscal cliff," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters today. "And doing that puts jobs in our country in danger."

Durbin's comments on the Medicare eligibility age were surprising, since top Senate Democrats like Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have been careful to not preclude the possibility of agreeing to such an increase — perhaps as a late-stage concession in a potential deal between Obama and Boehner.

"I was told it's not on the table from the White House," Durbin said. "Now that remains to be seen."

At a news conference, Reid again called on House Republicans to allow a vote on renewing Bush-era tax cuts for the 98 percent of taxpayers whose incomes are below $250,000. Obama vows to force rates on family income exceeding $250,000 from a top rate of 35 percent to the Clinton-era rate of 39.6 percent. He said the alternative is to allow tax cuts for everyone to expire.

"At some point, reality should set in," Reid said.

Reid cited comments by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to Politico.com, in which the incoming No. 2 Senate Republican said, "I believe we're going to pass the $250,000 and below sooner or later, and we really don't have much leverage" because those rates are going to expire anyway on Dec. 31.

Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican and leading conservative figure, today predicted that Obama would prevail in the fight over taxes.

A leading conservative who's resigning from the Senate is predicting that President Barack Obama will win the battle over raising taxes.

"He's going to get his wish. I believe we're going to be raising taxes, and not just on the top earners," DeMint, who is leaving the Senate to become president of the Heritage Institution think tank, said in an appearance on "CBS This Morning."

DeMint said a tax increase would amount to a "political trophy" for Obama but said it would be bad for the country.

Boehner said he would reject White House demands that as part of a deal, Congress agree to give up much of its ability to block increases in the government's ability to borrow money. The Treasury is expected to run out of its power to borrow more money early next year — a situation that congressional Republicans successfully used last year to demand spending cuts from Obama.

"Congress is never going to give up our ability to control the purse," Boehner said. "And the fact is that the debt limit ought to be used to bring fiscal sanity to Washington, D.C."

Obama planned to make his case on the fiscal cliff in interviews this afternoon with four local television stations in Philadelphia, Miami, Minneapolis and Sacramento, Calif. The TV markets reach viewers in congressional districts represented by Republican House members but won by Obama in last month's election.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama was "interested in communicating to Americans in every corner of the country about his commitment to work in bipartisan fashion with Congress to ensure that income taxes don't go up on middle class families at the end of the year."

Republicans still aren't budging on Obama's demands for higher tax rates on upper bracket earners, despite the president's convincing election victory and opinion polls showing support for the idea.

Democrats in turn are now resisting steps, such as raising the eligibility age for Medicare, that they were willing to consider just a year and a half ago, when Boehner was in a better tactical position.

Neither side has given much ground, and Boehner's exchange of proposals with Obama seemed to generate hard feelings more than progress. The White House has slightly reduced its demands on taxes — from $1.6 trillion over a decade to $1.4 trillion — but isn't yielding on demands that rates rise for wealthier earners.

Boehner responded with an offer very much like one he gave the White House more than a week ago that proposed $800 billion in new revenue, half of Obama's demand. Boehner is also pressing for an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and a stingier cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients.

There is increasing concern about a Dec. 31 deadline to stop the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the start of across-the-board spending cuts that are the result of Washington's failure to complete a deficit-reduction deal last year. Even if an agreement can be reached, the halting pace of negotiations is jeopardizing chances that it could be written into proper legislative form and passed through both House and Senate before the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.

"I do have an increasing concern that the speaker ... is trying to string this out until Jan. 3 because that's when he would be re-elected as speaker," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. "And I think he's nervous that if he can't get a majority of his House Republican members to support a reasonable agreement that that could put his speakership election in jeopardy. And so that might cause him to try and string these talks" along.

Republicans say it's Democrats who are dragging out the talks.

"In the past 48 hours, the president has not been negotiating in good faith in my opinion," said Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, who said he was increasingly pessimistic that a deal could be reached.

Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Nyia Hawkins contributed to this report.

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kainalu wrote:
My pension is directly tied to the current qualifying age. The medical insurance that comes with my pension expires at the time medicare is suppose to kick in. I have no problem increasing that age if the insurance that comes with my pension extends it the same.
on December 13,2012 | 09:46AM
boshio wrote:
Thats correct. People are only concerned with their own personal situation, rather than what is best for America as a country. To each its own.............isn't being american just great????
on December 13,2012 | 10:54AM
CriticalReader wrote:
Boehner is acting like an agent for a foreign enemy. There's little that can reasonably BE cut from the Fed budget without doing severe harm. The GOP mantra, "we spend too much" is merely a reuse when properly analyzed. Ask the GOP what specifically to cut, and they will describe things that could easily lead to death and/or squalor for AMERICANS. Yes. The GOP position leads to death and squalor for AMERICANS. In the case of the GOP demand for increases in medicare age, AMERICANS 65 and 66 years old. The GOP is acting like a Third World Dictator wolf in American sheep's clothing. And, make no mistake about it, our competitiors would just love America to relegate itself to acting like a third world disparate society. Boehner, the Tea Party, the entire GOP. UnAmerican. There's no other way to view them.
on December 13,2012 | 10:26AM
AhiPoke wrote:
"There's little that can reasonably BE cut from the Fed budget without doing severe harm." So what you're saying is that our country is doomed.
on December 13,2012 | 12:09PM
CriticalReader wrote:
So long as Boehner continues to be the leader followed by the GOP members of the House, yes. So long as the sophistry of guys like Paul Ryan continue to have a following, yes. So long as lunatics like those that form the core of the Tea Party continue to have their self interested and fraudulent influence, yes. Right now this country is paralyzed. Paralysis is not good. And, the paralysis is attributable simply and completely to a batch of legislators paying homage to dogma that is increasingly being rejected. If that paralysis continues, then yes, the country is doomed.
on December 13,2012 | 01:32PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Check out the beam in Obama's eye while you're grumbling so much about the speck in Boehner's. And love that "third world dictator" stuff. Matches Barry a lot better than the GOP. Demanding debt ceiling power and taking cuts off the table, the "my way or the highway" mantra is very revealing.
on December 13,2012 | 01:34PM
CriticalReader wrote:
Keep up with the news, hk. Your guy McConnell in the Senate is the one who demanded a vote on the debt ceiling power. And, yeah, right now it's his way or the highway. GOPers would be wise to understand that. As to the third world? Well, the hallmark of third world countries is huge disparity between the upper and lower classes with relative suffering of the middle class (if any) brought on by the greed of the upper class. That's EXACTLY what the GOP under Boehner is advocating. It's actually what you advocate. My question is whether or not you realize that. If so, then my question: "What's the matter with you?"
on December 13,2012 | 01:58PM
hawaiikone wrote:
McConnell had too much faith in his fellow democrats. He could not believe they would be so foolish as to even consider giving Obama debt ceiling authority. He was wrong, Fortunately he's able to stop it, although the House would have shot it down immediately. As to the "third world", maybe you should check out Harry Belefonte's solution for Obama. Harry is a strong Obama supporter and suggests that he act like a dictator and throw all dissenters is jail. Al Sharpton thought it was a good idea. Great rhetoric from the left. Third world? Are you serious? Explain to me how you want to get the money from the "rich" into the hands of the poor. We already know how Robin Hood did it.
on December 13,2012 | 04:13PM
CriticalReader wrote:
McConnell has weakened himself and his party with his continuous stupidity. And, he's objectively a failure at almost everything he proposes. As to your citation of left extremists, they have about as much sway over things as those who now advocate states seceding from the union and Americans moving overseas to avoid certain lunatics' bogeyman beliefs about Obama. Ironic how you refer to Robin Hood to try and make your point. Because, sadly, the "rich" in the fable of Robin Hood were characters as unsympathetic and inhuman as your heroes, the neocon far right of our real lives. And, the same viws and reaction(s) that created the fable of Robin Hood (you know, who lived in the land the forefathers of the first Americans FLED?) seem to be at work here in our real lives too.
on December 13,2012 | 09:08PM
hawaiikone wrote:
So. To summarize your response. 1.McConnell is stupid. 2.The right has nuts as well as the left .3. And, well. nothing really, just an interpretation of a fable. No answer regarding how you intend to give money from the rich to the poor. You've left me nothing to disagree with you about. I would still contend the third world comment though. I've been to quite a few, and following GOP proposals for medicare and social security changes will do more to prevent us from becoming third world than continued unsustainable spending, which drives us closer. "Unsympathetic ans inhuman" are actually characteristics of those unwilling to consider the future consequences of ignoring a problem today.
on December 14,2012 | 06:25AM
CriticalReader wrote:
I wouldn't take from the rich and give to the poor. I'd take from everyone a fair amount and give back to everyone a fair amount. And I think that's what Obama is aspiring to do. Although, I do acknowledge that my or anyone else's perception of what is "fair" may be vastly different. The thing is, right now, a clear numerical majority in this country defines fairness differently than the GOP and you do.
on December 14,2012 | 06:50AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Sounds just like something we've heard before. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need". I'm sure I don't need to provide you the source. I enjoy these little "talks" we have, and since it appears we differ philosophically and your team is hitting right now, we may have to suffer through a bumpy ride before my team gets another chance at bat. But rest assured, despite your premature eulogies, we'll be at the plate again soon. It's what makes our system workable.
on December 14,2012 | 09:52AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Just found out about the shootings in Conn. I'm sure we'll be back at each other soon, but for now please join me in praying for God's comfort to be real for these families.
on December 14,2012 | 12:14PM
ufried wrote:
more like "CRITICAL TALKER".
on December 13,2012 | 10:44AM
CriticalReader wrote:
Oh, good one. Very productive. Brilliant by neocon GOP standards actually (which would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic).
on December 13,2012 | 01:37PM
KekoaBradshaw wrote:
Back in the 1980's when the age to collect full Social Security benefits was raised from 65 to 67, it was phased in gradually so that it DIDN't affect retirees who were planning on retiring immediately. If something like this is what the Republicans are proposing for Medicare, I (as a Democrat who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012) am for it. As our population grows older, the eligibility age for benefits from Social Security and Medicare needs to increase also. Back when Social Security became law in 1936, the retirment age was set at 65 because actuarial tables showed that relatively few people lived to that age. Social Security was meant to be old age insurance in case you lived to age 65. It wasn't meant as something for everyone to count on when they reached 65 with the result that they didn't save during their working years. Given how long Americans live now, the elgibility age for FUTURE retirees should be something like 69, phased in over a period of years so that people retiring in the next ten or so years wouldn't be penalized.
on December 13,2012 | 02:40PM
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