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If Congress eliminates key elements of the Affordable Care Act, raising the Medicare age to 67 will leave more older Americans in insurance limbo for longer periods. The costs to the society, besides the cruelty to the individuals, will be high — people putting off treatment or medications or tests until treatable cancers or other ailments become untreatable and much more costly.
That brings us back to the super committee. Last week, we had conflicting signals, to say the least. First was the letter signed by 40 House Republicans and 60 House Democrats urging the panel to go big and keep everything — including revenues — on the table. Bless you, Reps. Mike Simpson (Idaho) and Steven LaTourette (Ohio), for stepping up to the plate and organizing the 40 GOP signatures — no easy task these days.
But the next day came a letter from 33 Senate Republicans taking revenues off the table. Shame on you, Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), for stepping away from the “gang of six” plate you had so courageously set just months ago.
Perhaps the Senate letter is just another bargaining ploy in the intense endgame negotiations that always accompany these deliberations.
At the same time, I am hearing from super committee sources that panel Republicans are telling their Democratic counterparts that the price for putting revenues on the table is to commit to gutting most of the Affordable Care Act, while making major modifications to Medicare.
If that is real, and not just a negotiating ploy, I am dismayed because it means that any serious bargain, falling along the lines of Simpson-Bowles, Rivlin-Domenici and the gang of six, is out of reach.
It certainly means that the idea of raising the Medicare age would and should be a non-starter — Medicare eligibility and the availability of exchanges and coverage options are directly linked.
At this point, I will choose to believe it is not real. The stakes are too high, and the rewards for reaching a major deal too great for otherwise rational people such as Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to deliberately foreclose a grand bargain by offering a non-deal as the last word. I hope.
Norman Ornstein is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.