Today one of the central stumbling blocks to a budget deal appears to be President Obama's reluctance to make cuts to Medicare that would inflict serious pain on beneficiaries.It's hard to say whether the Republicans really want to cause pain to old people. That's probably just a side benefit for the majority of them, though the true Randian teabaggers, and Alan Simpson, would dearly love to punish some moochers. But, I think that's less of a motivator than trying to force Democrats into making steep and highly unpopular benefit cuts, cuts that the Republicans can then turn around and use against them in attack ads.
The fact that Medicare poses such a stumbling block is striking because we have already seen sharp declines in the projected cost of Medicare over the years in which President Obama and Congress have been fighting over the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office has lowered its projections for Medicare costs over the years 2013-2023 by $400 billion compared with what was projected back when Bowles-Simpson put together their initial budget proposal. That proposal called for a bit more than $300 billion in cuts to Medicare, less than the reductions in projected spending that we have already seen.
Furthermore, CBO has not reduced its projections by as much as cost growth has slowed in the last three years.
It's a trap they're setting with an assist from the Very Serious People, the centrists and Third Way types who are useful tools of the Republicans, and who have too strong a hold on the imagination of Democrats. The reality is there are plenty of other ways to reform Medicare, and Social Security for that matter, that don't involve pain on the people who can't afford it. But pain is what they want, without seemingly realizing that it really is going to hurt people, lots of people. Which is exactly what the Republicans are counting on!