As we get more clarity on the menu of options in the upcoming budget debate, we’re seeing a narrowing of differences between the two parties. The Republicans may not want to admit it, but they’ve given up on changing the structure of Medicare. You can be sure of this by looking at the proposal of the Republican Study Committee, the far-right rump in the House (and it’s much more than a rump, including 3/4 of the entire House GOP caucus), which created a list of demands for increasing the debt limit. Even THEIR plan doesn’t mess with Medicare.
The plan calls for immediate spending cuts, spending caps at about 18 percent of GDP and a balanced-budget amendment similar to the plan unveiled by Senate Republicans in March, according to an aide with knowledge of the plan. The proposal does not include Medicare reforms, said the aide, who was not authorized to talk publicly about the plan.
“We’re putting together what we think makes sense at the RSC,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), RSC chairman, said in a brief interview Thursday. “We will plan to have some guidelines in place next week. We had a couple of meetings this week. We had our regular meeting; we had our steering committee meeting this morning. So we will plan to have that out next week.”
Now the RSC plan is absolutely crazy. An 18% spending cap is nearly 3% below the austere McCaskill-Corker plan. It’s well below the Ryan plan, which sets discretionary spending to the level of the Coolidge Administration. The balanced-budget amendment would turn all recessions into depressions in short order. And there are at least $180 billion in spending cuts in the 2012 budget year. And even they beg off the Medicare privatization. They claim to be “focusing on the pure spending aspects of the budget” for the time being.
On the other side, Kent Conrad is about to release his budget proposal, abandoning the Gang of Six but advancing their policy preferences anyway. Again, almost nothing on Medicare.
Conrad told The Hill that he will suggest only modest cuts to Medicare to pay for the so-called doctors’ fix — the scheduled cuts to doctors’ Medicare payments that Congress delays annually.
A Democratic source briefed on the proposal said the health savings in Conrad’s budget plan would offset the cost of a multi-year doctors’ fix. Conrad would not cut Medicare significantly to pay for deficit reduction, the source said.
“There are savings in Medicare, modest savings to pay for the doc fix,” Conrad told The Hill.
He said he would leave it up to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to decide the specific cuts.
“We don’t specify them because we don’t decide that, the Finance Committee decides that,” Conrad said.
So on the one side, Medicare gets left on the cutting room floor; on the other, “modest” and completely unspecified cuts to pay for the doc fix, which if you think about it is actually an net neutral change in Medicare spending, because the doc fix concerns provider reimbursement rates.
It’s time to stop talking about Medicare. Nothing’s happening in the next year and a half on it. If you’re a Medicaid recipient, watch your wallet. And there will be significant spending cuts between the Ryan plan, the RSC’s far-right nonsense, Conrad’s mock-cat food commission, and whatever the President brings to the table. There’s a lot that will hurt people here. But Medicare remains the third rail. Social Security, too (nobody’s talking about it).