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Mitch McConnell: No Deal On Debt Ceiling Without Medicare Cuts

With negotiations between the White House, Congressional Democrats, and the GOP apparently going nowhere at the moment, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell is doubling down:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says substantial Medicare cuts must be part of a spending and deficit cut package to get his support to raise the debt limit.

In a Capitol briefing with reporters Friday, McConnell declared affirmatively that unspecified Medicare cuts are on the table in bipartisan debt limit negotiations, led by Vice President Joe Biden, and he expects they’ll be part of the final deal. But in response to a question from TPM, he went further than he has in the past in laying down a marker on that issue. Medicare cuts must be part of that deal to get his support, he says — even if negotiators manage to find trillions of dollars in savings elsewhere, even if his other priorities are met.

“To get my vote, for me, it’s going to take short term [cuts, via spending caps]… Both medium and long-term, entitlements.,” McConnell said. “Medicare will be part of the solution.”

To clarify, I asked “[I]f [the Biden group] comes up with big cuts, trillions of dollars worth of cuts, but without substantially addressing Medicare, it won’t get your vote?”

“Correct,” McConnell said.

That’s not a filibuster threat, but it is a clear indication of what the GOP is demanding in private deliberations. McConnell repeatedly cited Bill Clinton and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who this week acknowledged — as have many Democrats — that resolving the long-term deficit problem will require addressing Medicare. Hoyer in particular said that Medicare will be on the table in current debt negotiations, and with revenues off the table — that means they’re talking politically dangerous cuts. And for Republicans, that’s the point.

It may not be a filibuster threat, but if whatever comes out of these negotiations doesn’t get the support of the Senate Minority Leader, there’s virtually no chance that its going to make it through Congress. Harry Reid has already accused McConnell of holding the debt ceiling vote hostage:

Republicans are holding the United States’ credit hostage to ram through their plan to end Medicare. They are now saying they won’t accept any plan to reduce the deficit unless it also cuts Medicare. Voters have resoundingly rejected this ideological agenda. Republicans should drop it and move on.”

Is McConnell serious? Is the GOP really willing to stand its ground in the debt ceiling fight over something as unpopular as cutting Medicare?

Obviously, this is just a negotiating tactic at this point, but it should give us a pretty good idea of what’s going on behind the scenes in the budget negotiations and, quite honestly, it doesn’t bode well for how things will go over the next six weeks or so. The Democrats have been convinced by the victory in NY-26 that they can win by running against the Ryan Plan. Republicans don’t seem to think that NY-26 means anything, but they also haven’t done a very good public relations job of selling the Ryan Plan, or even the very idea that Medicare reform is necessary, to the public. At this point, it becomes a question of which side blinks first and, right now, both sides are sending signals suggesting that they aren’t going to blink at all.

Steve Benen notes:

The Senate’s leading Republican is saying, publicly and on the record, that without Medicare cuts, he’ll try to create an economic calamity on purpose.

The obvious question, at this point, is what kind of cuts McConnell has in mind, and whether (and how much) it would affect benefits for the elderly. Maybe the Senate Minority Leader doesn’t have the policy chops to talk about his ideas for reductions in any depth, or maybe he’s just saving it for the negotiating table.

Either way, it’s a fairly big deal.

Whichever side of the Medicare debate you’re on, you’ve got to admit that last observation is true.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    “McConnell declared affirmatively that unspecified Medicare cuts are on the table”

    Lol, same story, new day.

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  2. john personna says:

    BTW, I declare affirmatively that I will curb my fast food addiction in unspecified ways.

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  3. Alex Knapp says:

    Worth noting: The GOP has, pretty consistently, refused to make any moves to allow Medicare to control health care costs EXCEPT FOR caps. That’s just stupid policymaking. And immoral to boot.

    A far better policy would be moving towards a more rational set of regulations for health care. Federalize medical licensing to inhibit rent seeking. Allow dental hygenists to perform simple cleanings and nurses to perform basic checkups without needing a doctor/dentist. Mandate that doctors seeing Medicare patients utilize checklists determined by the relevant medical boards. Mandate electronic paperkeeping. Force the AMA to stop artificially limiting the number of entrants into Medical Schools.

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  4. Vast Variety says:

    BTW, I declare affirmatively that I will curb my fast food addiction in unspecified ways.

    Walk in instead of using the drive thru?

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  5. michael reynolds says:

    So the GOP wins the mid-terms in part by attacking Obama for cutting Medicare.

    Then, once in power they threaten to destroy the country financially if Obama doesn’t cut Medicare.

    What a bunch of frauds. These people have no business in government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Alex, are you still selling the Obamacare is going to cut costs? So you think the 30% reduction in Medicare reimbursements on January 1, 2012 is going to happen?

    Senate Majority Leader Reid has not got a budget through the senate in two years, even though the law supposedly requires it. IMHO, he has no credibility to bitch about this. The simple fact remains that Obamacare overreached and those that passed it are going to have to back down somewhat to try and keep it.

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  7. Micahel Reynolds, I can make the same argument about the ahem, leadies and gentlemen that ran up $3T worth of debt the last two fricking years that has caused the debt ceiling to be reached so quickly. Unexpectedly! Like all the bad economic news month after month after month after month…

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  8. michael reynolds says:

    Charles:

    What are you talking about? Obama inherited this mess, worked with Mr. Bush on TARP, then did what little anyone could to ameliorate the situation. What did you expect him to do to avoid this mountain of debt? Raise taxes? Stop paying Medicare and SS? Walk away overnight from Iraq and Afghanistan? What was your solution?

    Bill Clinton handed the GOP a surplus. The GOP then refused to pay for the wars. Cut taxes for people who did not need a tax cut. Passed Medicare Part D. Then when the sh!t hit the fan handed it off to Obama.

    We’re not the ones who believe in magical thinking about debt. We’re not the ones who pushed for tax cuts on the theory that they would pay for themselves and create jobs.

    Face facts: the GOP is not fit to govern. They are incompetent in office and ridiculous in opposition.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. ratufa says:

    This sounds like a plausible strategy for the Republicans. After all, Obama and the Democrats caved on extending the Bush tax cuts in exchange for something they wanted, and this allowed Republicans to deflect Democratic criticism of the cuts and got some people talking about the “Obama/Bush tax cuts”. How nice it would be for Republicans in 2012 if they could do something similar for Medicare cuts.

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  10. ponce says:

    Force the AMA to stop artificially limiting the number of entrants into Medical Schools.

    U.S. citizenship on demand for all foreign doctors.

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  11. tom p says:

    Charles:

    What are you talking about?

    I notice Charles has no answer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. tom p says:

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says substantial Medicare cuts must be part of a spending and deficit cut package to get his support to raise the debt limit.

    MM… thank you very much. Look, don’t even try to tell me that Medicare has to be cut so we can give even more tax cuts to the rich…

    Are you people even close to sane? Do you have a functioning synapse? Keep going, keep going…

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  13. Ben Wolf says:

    Charles is busy screaming at his mirror about international progressive conspiracies and commie traitors. I’m sure once he’s exhauted himself he’ll return and reply with another ill-considered comment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Given the peculiar demographics of the Internet I always find “discussions” about Medicare to be unintentionally hilarious, in sort of a tragedy-comedy sense.

    A very large, disproportionate percentage of the readership of political blogs fall into one of two groups: either they’re 40+ years away from being eligible for Medicare or they’re already in the program and (in many if not most instances) already have Medigap or Advantage coverage. For the latter group all this whining and gnashing of teeth is silly. These folks are not really going to be affected by any sort of spending reductions, even assuming the same were enacted.

    For the former group the words moot and ironic do not even begin to describe things. Medicare won’t exist in 40 years, unless people like Rep. Ryan get their way. The program already technically is insolvent and without massive reform (i.e., cuts) will be utterly bankrupt within the decade. In other words, these kids are fighting and acting out in large part to avoid changes to a system that won’t be there for them sans the very changes to which they’re in reflexive opposition. More proof that youth in fact is wasted on the youth.

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  15. anjin-san says:

    I notice Charles has no answer.

    Does he ever?

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  16. An Interested Party says:

    Medicare won’t exist in 40 years, unless people like Rep. Ryan get their way.

    In other words, it has to be destroyed to be saved…

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  17. tom p says:

    Given the peculiar demographics of the Internet I always find “discussions” about Medicare to be unintentionally hilarious, in sort of a tragedy-comedy sense.

    TN…. all of europe figured his out a long time ago… Why can’t you? Because old people are going to die anyway?

    What are you going to say to St. Pete as you try to cross the golden gates?

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  18. Stan says:

    “Medicare won’t exist in 40 years, unless people like Rep. Ryan get their way. ”

    I think it’s far more likely that Medicare will be extended to the entire population and that the government will limit medical inflation in the same way governments do in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere in the OECD countries by tough negotiation on costs. Either that happens, or RyanCare is passed and senior citizens impoverish themselves paying for their medical care. I don’t see the second scenario as very likely given the voting power of seniors and their willingness to vote on the basis of self interest.

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  19. Pug says:

    The big money boys who really run the Republican Party are not going to stand idly by while the crazies destroy the credit of the United States government. They will be bitch slapping little Mitch up both sides of the head if this gets too close for comfort. Sure, they want spending cuts but they don’t want catastrophe.

    Is “Slash Medicare or we’ll burn down the place!” really where Republicans want to be? That’s going to go over well with the public? Doubtful.

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  20. An Interested Party says:

    I think it’s far more likely that Medicare will be extended to the entire population and that the government will limit medical inflation in the same way governments do in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere in the OECD countries by tough negotiation on costs.

    Socialism!!!!!!! Don’t you know we can’t do that? We’re Americans, after all…

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  21. anjin-san says:

    The big money boys who really run the Republican Party are not going to stand idly by while the crazies destroy the credit of the United States government

    Was just thinking about the interesting conversation that the US Chamber of Commerce is probably having with McConnell’s office. You have to think that CEOs & Fortune 500 boards around the country are asking themselves how much longer they can support these clowns.

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  22. ratufa says:

    The big money boys who really run the Republican Party are not going to stand idly by while the crazies destroy the credit of the United States government.

    That is true. But, the “big money boys” (at least, those who aren’t benefiting from entitlement spending in a big way) also are not very happy about how much the government is going to be spending on entitlements over the next several decades , because they don’t want to be stuck with the bill. It’s also true that the debt ceiling is eventually going to be raised, barring a collective political death wish by much of Congress. The questions are who is going to blink first and what concessions will they make. And, it’s likely that the “big money boys” are going to try to influence this game of chicken in ways that people on the more liberal side of things may not like.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Eric Florack says:

    Obama inherited this mess,

    ….and his first action was to go all in, making it ten times worse.

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  24. Rick Almeida says:

    @Eric

    Indeed. We are 10 times worse off than we were in 2008, when the Dow was under 8000, Bin Laden was at large, and the mortgage securities mess threatened to demolish the world economy.

    Ah, those were heady days, and I can see why you miss them.

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  25. anjin-san says:

    ….and his first action was to go all in, making it ten times worse.

    Rick… It’s all true. When Bush left office, we were losing 700-800K Jobs a month. Now we are losing 7-8 million a month. 10 times worse. I guess the lamestream media has not told you this.

    And to top it off, Obama, ummmm, errrr. Obama really sucks!

    There, that will show those liberals a thing or two.

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  26. Eric Florack says:

    Indeed. We are 10 times worse off than we were in 2008, when the Dow was under 8000, Bin Laden was at large, and the mortgage securities mess threatened to demolish the world economy.

    So, the dow has a connection with reality which is, what, exactly?
    We’re more certainly not in a recover in any way shape or form, a point which even Krugman admits.
    Obama only got BinLaden because of Bush’s means of gathering information… which Obama has now outlawed. Have you anything else to offer in Obama’s defense?

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  27. Eric Florack says:

    Oh… and as to job losses, perhaps this will illustrate my point?

    http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-jobs-lost-in-the-bush-and-obama-administration-2010-2

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  28. de stijl says:

    Eric Florak,

    You may want to recheck that Business Insider chart to see if it says what you think it does.

    Also, thanks for the best laugh I’ve had in a week.

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  29. michael reynolds says:

    Ah hah hah hah. Classic dumb from Eric. Classic.

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  30. anjin-san says:

    So, the dow has a connection with reality which is, what, exactly?

    You have to love these guys. They slobber at the very mention of market forces. But when the market tells them something that does not conform with their little dogma, well, suddenly – markets mean nothing!

    And this peanut head actually thinks anyone should defend Obama to him?

    True comedy.

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  31. Scott O. says:

    We’re more certainly not in a recover in any way shape or form, a point which even Krugman admits.

    Au contraire, perhaps this will illustrate my point?

    http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-jobs-lost-in-the-bush-and-obama-administration-2010-2

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. anjin-san says:

    Oh… and as to job losses, perhaps this will illustrate my point?

    If your point is that Bush was a total disaster when it comes to job creation, and that Obama is cleaning up the train wreck, sure.

    Every village needs an idiot bit. You have secured your place in life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Eric Florack says:

    You may want to recheck that Business Insider chart to see if it says what you think it does.

    Well, I’m sure YOU would like us to.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Eric Florack says:

    If your point is that Bush was a total disaster when it comes to job creation, and that Obama is cleaning up the train wreck, sure.

    Actually the opposite.

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  35. Eric Florack says:

    Obama claimed tobe on track for creating four million jobs and lost four million. Spin that one if you can

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  36. Terrye says:

    I am just amazed at the willingness of rank and file Democrats to believe their party leaders. The party should change its name to the Free Stuff party and its motto should be we pay good money for votes.

    The truth is thanks to Obamacare, medicare is being cut right now. In fact Obamacare is unpopular with seniors in large part because it depends on medicare cuts to pay for the new program. That means seniors do not much like any plan that cuts medicare.

    So now we have the same party that voted to cut medicare by $500 billion yammering about evil Republicans cutting medicare.

    At least Ryan’s plan deals with the inevitable collapse of medicare, the Democrats just choose to lie and scare people while offering nothing that resembles a viable alternative.

    This kind of crappy political posturing is what got us into this situation in the first place.

    The Senate could take everything the top 2% have and it would not balance this budget…they could shut down the Dept of Defense and it would not balance the books. But will they be honest with the American people and tell them that? Hell no. They will just blame the war in Iraq {or what is left of it} or bad rich people {as if plenty of them were not rich snotty liberals} and hope that class warfare and self interest will help them win another election.

    The problem with that kind of thinking is that we are running out of money and sooner or later it will be painfully obvious that the Democrats have no plan to fix that.

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  37. Scott O. says:

    The Senate could eliminate medicare entirely today and it would not balance this budget…they could shut down Social Security and it would not balance the books. But will they be honest with the American people and tell them that? Hell no.

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  38. sam says:

    @Terrye

    The truth is thanks to Obamacare, medicare is being cut right now.

    Evidently, you’re not aware that Obama’s Medicare cuts are also in the Ryan’s budget plan, see House GOP budget retains Democratic Medicare cuts:

    In a postelection reversal, House Republicans are supporting nearly $450 billion in Medicare cuts that they criticized vigorously last fall after Democrats and President Barack Obama passed them as part of their controversial health care law.

    The cuts are included in the 2012 budget that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled last week and account for a significant share of the $5.8 trillion in claimed savings over the next decade.

    The House is expected to vote on the blueprint this week.

    Ryan’s spokesman, Conor Sweeney, said the cuts are virtually the only part of “Obamacare” — the term that Republicans use derisively to describe the health care law enacted last year — that the Wisconsin Republican preserved when he drafted his budget [my emphasis].

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  39. An Interested Party says:

    At least Ryan’s plan deals with the inevitable collapse of medicare…

    Oh yes, by giving seniors vouchers that no insurance company will accept with the preexisting conditions of seniors…

    But will they the GOP be honest with the American people and tell them that they are destroying Medicare? Hell no. They will just blame the war in Iraq {or what is left of it} or bad rich people {as if plenty of them were not rich snotty liberals} the poor and all those who supposedly pay no taxes as well as the Department of Education and foreign aid and hope that by screaming “class warfare” they and self interest will help them win another election.

    Happy to be of help…

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  40. Actually, Charles has other things in his life to address from time to time. Not that I regard Michael Reynolds retort as requiring a response for me. As to Mr. Wolf, um, WTF are you talking about? Not bothering to read the rest of the thread now. Sorry.

    But seriously, I notice very few actual responses to the points I raise from time to time beyond, “I don’t care, Obama is awesome,” or, “Republicans are stupid/evil/venal/smell bad.”

    Whatever.

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  41. sam says:

    @Charles

    “But seriously, I notice very few actual responses to the points I raise from time to time

    And yet, when Michael asked you this

    “What did you expect [Obama} to do to avoid this mountain of debt? Raise taxes? Stop paying Medicare and SS? Walk away overnight from Iraq and Afghanistan? What was your solution?”

    Your answer was “Not that I regard Michael Reynolds retort as requiring a response for me” — followed by your usual whine. You’re a silly person,Charles.

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  42. anjin-san says:

    Your answer was “Not that I regard Michael Reynolds retort as requiring a response for me”

    The line he threw at me was “I don’t respond to bad faith actors”.

    Gee Charles. can’t imagine why people don’t take you seriously.

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