While the budget conference continues to try to reach a deal on Fiscal 2014 spending levels, Congressional Quarterly reports that some elements of a potential grand bargain have been “edging to the forefront” as lawmakers contemplate asking high-income seniors to pay more for Social Security and Medicare.
Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition, told CQ that some entitlement reform proposals can appeal to both parties.
“If the idea is to get more contribution from upper-income people, it fits that agenda,” he said. “But it’s also saving the government money. So it’s one of those proposals that can fit both parties’ agenda. It’s kind of tiptoeing into the entitlement reform arena.”
The CQ story, “Adjusting the Breadth of the Social Safety Net,” notes that proposals to link income levels with public benefits have attracted support from both political parties in the past. In their proposed FY 2014 budgets, for example, both President Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) suggest having wealthier seniors pay higher Medicare premiums.
This approach has received fresh attention as budget conferees look for ways to avoid new budget cuts from the sequester.
Some members of Congress see the budget conference as a chance to tackle the long-term financing issues plaguing Social Security and Medicare.
Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), who has previously introduced a plan to reform Social Security that includes means testing and raising the payroll tax cap, has rounded up signatures from 50 colleagues in both parties on a letter urging GOP leaders to tackle Social Security as part of the current fiscal negotiations. Ribble says he is “starting to challenge my colleagues both on the left and on the right to get serious about it, and I do believe that both sides want it fixed.”
But it is important to move quickly, according to Charles Blauhous, a public trustee for Social Security and Medicare: “We’re getting past the critical point...We’re so late in the game with respect to fixing Social Security’s finances that it’s an open question whether we’re going to be able to do it at all.”
While Blahous says that requiring wealthier seniors to pay more for their Social Security and Medicare benefits would fall short of completely fixing the finances of the two programs, he agreed that it would buy some time.