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Liberals Start to See Entitlement Trims as Inevitable

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Last weekend, Durbin called on Democrats to address entitlement spending as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, although he ruled out increasing Medicare’s eligibility age.

Some Democrats remain opposed to any changes that would affect beneficiaries. During a rally at the Capitol earlier this month, a group of Democratic lawmakers vowed to oppose any cuts in benefits. “We are here today to send a very loud and very clear message to the leadership” in Congress and the White House, said Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt. “Do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, do not cut Medicaid and do not provide more tax breaks to the top 2 percent, who are doing phenomenally well and, in many cases, have never had it so good.”

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan predicted at a recent fiscal issues forum sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation that it will be difficult to find agreement on entitlement spending cuts but that such a deal is well worth the effort. “It is extremely difficult to rescind entitlements to which people think they are legally entitled,” Greenspan said. “As far as I’m concerned, if we have to pay a large price in increasing taxes in order to get [at] this extraordinary, unstoppable rise in spending ... I think we have to do that, and then recognize that it’s politically far easier to lower taxes than it is to lower spending.”

There have been recent signs that bipartisan agreement on at least a few changes in Medicare and Medicaid is possible as part of a larger deal on taxes and spending.

Last weekend, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., called on Democrats to address entitlement spending as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, although he ruled out increasing Medicare’s eligibility age. And speaking to the Center for American Progress this week, Durbin said entitlement programs including Medicare and Medicaid are likely to face greater scrutiny. “Put everything on the table,” he said.

Some centrist brokers are also trying to pull Democrats toward a deal on entitlements.

Alice M. Rivlin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and a former Office of Management and Budget director in the Clinton administration, said Republicans and Democrats are “missing how close they are” to an agreement. “The campaign was focused on each side saying that the other side would destroy Medicare, for example,” she said. “But if you look at what they were actually proposing, neither side wants to destroy Medicare. And I think now that the campaigns are over, there may be some potential for actually working out some compromises.”

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