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Medicare Reform Headlines Deficit Reduction Debate

During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on deficit reduction and spending “triggers,” Chairman Max Baucus said “it is time to craft deficit reduction legislation that will stabilize debt held by the public by 2014 or 2015, and it should continue to reduce the deficit in the following years as well….”  Although somewhat noncommittal, he indicated that the committee may soon move to mark up legislation to create a trigger to reduce federal deficits exceeding certain limits which may become a centerpiece of the debate to increase the federal debt limit later this summer. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced that the deadline for congressional action on the debt limit could be moved forward to August 2nd given recent increases in federal tax receipts.  The trigger suggested by the Administration to cap the federal debt as a percentage of GDP would allow for tax increases as well as spending reductions which would lessen the threat of radical changes to Medicare and Medicaid.  The proposal by Senators Bob Corker and Claire McCaskill would not include tax increases and cap federal spending at 20.6% of GDP within 10 years, thus opening up the potential for major changes to federal entitlement programs.  Democrats continue to ramp up their criticism of the House-passed Ryan FY 2012 budget plan which would target Medicare for a major overhaul to a “premium support” basis.  It is expected that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will bring the House bill to a vote to put Senate Republicans on record in favor of what he says is a “radical” change to Medicare and Medicaid.  Led by Senator John D. Rockefeller, a near majority of Senate Democrats alerted the Administration that they would oppose any plan to block grant Medicaid.  Despite the negative comments from Democrats, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said that he is relatively optimistic that Congress can reach an agreement with the President to increase the federal debt limit accompanied by a process to reduce future federal deficits. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp also called upon Democrats to come forth with their own plan to reform Medicare in the face of their opposition to the Ryan premium support plan.

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