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“Official Washington was in celebration mode on New Year’s Day after kind of averting a completely unnecessary crisis that was entirely of its own creation.” The Borowitz Report
This was our favorite headline from the hundreds of stories flooding our email boxes during the holiday “fiscal cliff” debate. The fact that it’s satire really doesn’t diminish the underlying message. Crisis creation seems to be what Washington does best these days.  Even so, there was good news in this deal for seniors including: the end of the Social Security payroll tax holiday (which should never have been implemented in the first place), a one year doc fix preventing a massive cut in doctors’ Medicare reimbursements and extension of a number of Medicare programs that would have expired December 31st.

So while America’s seniors can breathe a sigh of relief that Congress finally came to its senses and removed benefit cuts for millions of middle-class and poor Americans from the fiscal cliff deal, that relief will be short-lived. Tomorrow, with the swearing-in of a new Congress, the assault on Social Security and Medicare begins all over again.

As Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times correctly points out, this alleged quest for deficit reduction has really been about cutting Social Security and Medicare under the guise of debt reduction.

“Despite the lawmakers' claims that the debate has been about closing the federal deficit and reducing the federal debt, none of the negotiating over the past weeks has dealt with those issues. Indeed, the tax and spending package will widen the deficit by some $4 trillion over 10 years, compared with what would happen if the tax increases and spending cuts mandated by existing law were implemented.

The House Republican caucus has consistently looked for ways to protect high-income taxpayers from a tax increase, at the expense of beneficiaries of government programs such as enrollees in Social Security and Medicare. If there's a dominant preoccupation with cutting the deficit lurking somewhere in that mind-set, good luck finding it.”

The Huffington Post describes what’s coming next:
“The fiscal cliff has not been averted. If anything, the U.S. faces an even more ominous deadline in a few months. The debt ceiling was hit as of New Year's Eve. The U.S. Treasury will dip into its tool bag to keep the country's borrowing ability going, but that will last only about two months. Also in early March, the sequestration -- $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts, half in defense and half in domestic programs -- springs back, unless Congress finds a way to offset it with other spending cuts. Weeks later, the law that keeps the government funded expires. It all means that, in late February and early March, Congress will face a sequestration, a government default and a government shutdown. Republicans say they'll use the leverage created by the debt ceiling to force Obama to accept spending cuts, particularly in entitlement programs. Obama resisted that notion on Dec. 31, saying he wants more tax increases and won't accept Republican plans to "shove" spending cuts past him. "If they think that's going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they've got another thing coming," he said.
However, once the fiscal cliff deal passed, the President’s message changed making it clear cuts to Medicare will be offered up to pay down the deficit:
“I agree with Democrats and Republicans that the aging population and the rising cost of health care makes Medicare the biggest contributor to our deficit. I believe we've got to find ways to reform that program without hurting seniors who count on it to survive. And I believe that there’s further unnecessary spending in government that we can eliminate.” President Obama statement, January 1
There are ways to make Medicare more efficient and save money, in fact, many of those ideas were already implemented in the Affordable Care Act.  Going forward Congress should also consider allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug makers for lower prescription drug costs in Part D and allowing drug re-importation which would save billions in the Medicare program. Unfortunately, both of these common sense proposals are opposed by conservatives, many of the same fiscal hawks, who’d rather reduce spending by cutting benefits instead of curtailing the excessive payments to the highly profitable pharmaceutical industry.

Winning the fiscal cliff battle is clearly just the first step in ensuring America’s seniors don’t lose the war about to begin in earnest against the nation’s vital safety net programs --Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Originally posted to NCPSSM on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 06:41 AM PST.

Also republished by Social Security Defenders and The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

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Comment Preferences

  •  not exactly (4+ / 0-)

    this:

       

    “I agree with Democrats and Republicans that the aging population and the rising cost of health care makes Medicare the biggest contributor to our deficit. I believe we've got to find ways to reform that program without hurting seniors who count on it to survive. And I believe that there’s further unnecessary spending in government that we can eliminate.”
    does not translate to this:
    However, once the fiscal cliff deal passed, the President’s message changed, making it clear cuts to Medicare will be offered up to pay down the deficit.
    unless you're getting upset about them cutting unnecessary spending.


    Please don't dominate the rap, Jack, if you got nothin' new to say - Grateful Dead

    by Cedwyn on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 06:51:59 AM PST

  •  Obviously, the smart way to handle this (6+ / 0-)

    is for Obama to force Repubs to put their money where their mouths are, by telling them that if they're serious about deficit reduction and want to do it mainly through cuts to entitlement programs, then great, allow Medicare D to negotiate drug prices and import drugs, scale back Medicare Advantage even further, and end all those Scooter Store-like scams that rip off Medicare in the billions. Oh, and what about those "tax expenditures" (i.e. subsidies to big corporations and the rich) they keep saying they want to cut? CUT them!

    Now, whether or not he will do this, is another question. But he does have some political leverage here, if he chooses to use it.

    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

    by kovie on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 07:06:36 AM PST

  •  Here's were we should be cutting (11+ / 0-)



    If cats could blog, they wouldn't

    by crystal eyes on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 07:15:16 AM PST

    •  Yes! (4+ / 0-)

      Move Single Payer Forward? Join 18,000 Doctors of PNHP and 185,000 member National Nurses United

      by divineorder on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 07:29:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  US Military budget 2012, $1.030–$1.415 trillion (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aspe4


      Budget breakdown for 2012

      Total Spending     $1.030–$1.415 trillion

      --

      In February 2009, Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., called for a reduction in the military budget:

      "The math is compelling: if we do not make reductions approximating 25 percent of the military budget starting fairly soon, it will be impossible to continue to fund an adequate level of domestic activity even with a repeal of Bush's tax cuts for the very wealthy.

      I am working with a variety of thoughtful analysts to show how we can make very substantial cuts in the military budget without in any way diminishing the security we need...

      American well-being is far more endangered by a proposal for substantial reductions in Medicare, Social Security or other important domestic areas than it would be by canceling weapons systems that have no justification from any threat we are likely to face."

      "Who are these men who really run this land? And why do they run it with such a thoughtless hand?" David Crosby

      by allenjo on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 11:04:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The President is right that Medicare (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib, Slightly Wobbly, nextstep, Hawkjt

    is going to be a huge problem.  From the Medicare Trustees Report in 2012:  

    Total Medicare expenditures were $549 billion in 2011. The Board projects that, under current law, expenditures will increase in future years at a somewhat faster pace than either aggregate workers’  earnings or the economy overall and that, as a percentage of GDP,  they will increase from 3.7 percent in 2011 to 6.7 percent by 2086  (based on the Trustees’ intermediate set of  assumptions).  If lawmakers continue to override the statutory decreases in physician fees, and if the reduced price increases for other health services under Medicare are not sustained and do not take full effect in the long range, then Medicare spending would instead represent roughly 10.4 percent of GDP in 2086. Growth of this magnitude, if realized, would substantially increase the strain on the nation’s workers, the economy, Medicare beneficiaries, and the federal budget.
    That's 10% of GDP [because we once again recognized that we will always do the Doc Fix] not of the federal budget.  This is at a time when we only take in, in revenue, 15% of GDP, and by taxing the rich more, and by growing the economy, we hope to be able to get to 18% of GDP.  That means that, for our children, if the economy starts really growing, Medicare, in and of itself, will be over half of our total revenues.  Put another way, 10% of every single dollar generated by anyone in this country is going to go to Medicare.  And if you read the report, that's AFTER the Trustees considered the ACA and the claims that the ACA will lower costs, and considering all of that under the most favorable assumptions, which they warn are unlikely.  The actual number, they warn, could well be higher.

    The estimates I've seen for the savings if Medicare could negotiate with drug providers is about $4.9 billion a year.  That's a drop in the bucket.  

    Look, I understand the reluctance to touch Medicare, but the numbers are the numbers, and if you rely on the Medicare Trustees Report, something has to be done.  And if we don't want to implement it until 10 years down the road, we need to start planning now.  

    •  Still, just cutting benefits w/o other reforms (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      greenbell, Aspe4

      is not the answer. That means seniors have worse healthcare and most don't have the means to make up for a shortfall in Medicare coverage out of their own pockets.

      We need more and better reforms that get that exponential growth in healthcare costs (over inflation) to moderate.

      •  This is the problem (0+ / 0-)
        We need more and better reforms that get that exponential growth in healthcare costs (over inflation) to moderate.
        I agree that this is what we need.  The problem is how to do that.

        I haven't seen any elected official from either party put a realistic plan on the table.  

    •  OK let's start with Hillary and Bush Sr (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lucy2009, vigilant meerkat, Aspe4

      If we're going to ration healthcare, let's start at the top.  Kick 'em to the curb.  How dare those worthless old fogies use up healthcare and deny your kids their rightful share of the GDP.  

      It's always so easy to deny someone else healthcare.  But like everything else, what's happening is that the wealthiest get concierge care and the middle class will be driven out of the market.  Remember Medicare is a middle class program.  It guarantees that middle class people won't be forced into destitution to get medical care.

      •  It's also easy to say, "we need to do that" (0+ / 0-)

        when you don't have to say how to pay for it.  

        Nobody is saying that it's not important to maintain Medicare.  The problem is how to pay for it.

        •  Taxes (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Aspe4

          I was glad the payroll tax didn't make the tax cut.  Our tax rates are still too low.  It's a matter of fighting a progressive war not echoing the Republican mantra that the only thing the middle class is ever going to get is a tax cut.  

          Otherwise, I might as well join the Republican Party.  If I'm still going to get the MIC, the security police state, and inadequate services why do we bother with a Democratic Party?

          I mean you've already got me cheering that the estate tax got favorable treatment in the bill.  If I'm not going to get Medicare I better hope I inherit the farm.  

          Sometimes centrism is the worst of both worlds.   Cutting Social Security and Medicare so that they are nothing more than poverty programs is self-defeating.  Why should anyone middle class bother with them if you do that?  Might as well let the poor suffer and starve and look out for number one.  I mean if I'm going to start thinking like a Republican I might as well be one.  Resolves all that cognitive dissonance of pretending to be Progressive.  

        •  I agree. (0+ / 0-)

          I have looked at the projections,and it is daunting.

          The President's statement is not controversial,it is the fact. Look at Medicare projected spending by 2017...it is well over 600 billion.
          It is the biggest driver of our expenditures,simply due to an aging population and rising costs. That cannot be denied.
          Now, I do not include SS since it is a fully funded separate program.

          We need some controls,somehow,but my 93 yr old dad and 86 yr old mom must have every option available to prolong their lives....that is the dilemma...everyone has a mom and dad or grandparents that eat up huge amounts of medical resources,and deserve every chance at regaining health..'

  •  I am ready to do battle and am listening to each (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greenbell, Lucy2009, Aspe4

    and every word that the R's and D's utter about "reforming the entitlements". I fully expect it will be Medicare/Medicaid and/or the CPI for SS that will be next on the chopping block, so I stand battle ready....

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