The short post-election congressional session needs to include an entitlement reform package that cuts “hundreds of billions of dollars” from Medicare, a senior Senate Democrat said Tuesday.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate and a senior member of the powerful Finance Committee, urged the Medicare cuts as part of a “grand bargain” that produces at least $4 trillion in deficit reduction. The package also should increase taxes on high income earners while maintaining current rates for taxpayers with incomes below $250,000. Other Democrats and Republicans have urged delaying any entitlement talks until the next Congress is seated, but Schumer said a deal is more likely to occur if it is attempted to during the lame-duck session.
Schumer said he opposed changes to Medicare's “benefits structure” but that all other changes should be considered.
“You can save hundreds of billions and still keep the benefits structure,” he told reporters after a speech at the National Press Club. “People won't like it, but you can do it.”
Schumer specifically declined to remove from consideration either increases in Medicare's eligibility age or the tax treatment of health insurance benefits.
“I don't think raising the age will happen; I think there's a lot of opposition to it,” he said.
President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had agreed to gradually raise the Medicare retirement age from 65 to 67 as part of a grand deficit-reduction bargain in summer 2011, according to media reports at the time. The negotiations broke down over disputes regarding unrelated tax increases.