No decision is final yet, but there are growing signs that this year’s House Republican Medicare voucher plan won’t be adjusted to affect Americans older than age 55.
Under pressure to produce a balanced budget within 10 years, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was considering revamping his Medicare privatization plan to hit Americans even closer to retirement. That would have have violated Ryan’s previous pledge, oft-repeated during his vice presidential run last year, that his controversial plan would preserve Medicare’s promise of guaranteed insurance coverage to everyone over 55.
Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (PA) told TPM on Wednesday that the proposal has been under consideration, but according to his discussions with Ryan, he believes the Wisconsinite’s budget plan will align federal spending and revenues in 10 years without implementing any Medicare changes for those above 55.
“I’ve had discussions with Paul Ryan and others and it appears — it’s likely that the Medicare age will not change,” Dent said in an interview. “So in other words we would like to remain at 55. Now I can’t speak for the Budget Committee or Chairman Ryan but I believe that’s where this is heading.”
Ryan was under additional pressure this year because the House GOP leadership had promised a 10-year balanced budget to conservatives back in January as a way of placating them over the deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, which included substantial tax increases for high income Americans.
But Republican number-crunchers on the House Budget Committee believe that a friendlier fiscal landscape could allow them to reach their 10-year goal without raising the Medicare threshold. They also don’t believe raising the age would yield substantial savings within a 10-year window, so the budgetary benefits are minimal and the political costs significant.
Richard Kogan, a budget expert at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told TPM this week that the House GOP’s task will be made easier thanks to the tax hikes in the fiscal cliff, updated revenue projections and the onset of sequestration. Dent echoed that assessment, saying that the new baseline makes a 10-year balanced budget easier to achieve.
Other Republicans, including Reps. Phil Gingrey (GA) and Trent Franks (AZ), said Wednesday that raising the age for who would still have traditional guarantee-based Medicare has been under consideration, but declined to say whether they expect it to be included in Ryan’s final budget proposal.
Dent warned that the promise to those above 55 may not be sustainable over the years if Congress doesn’t reform Medicare. “But for the year, anyway,” he told TPM, “it looks like they’re going to maintain the 55 year commitment.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.