WASHINGTON – A key Senate Democrat said Monday that his party is willing to make a deal on reducing Medicare expenses but drew a hard line in the sand on benefit cuts as part of the debt limit negotiations.
“We’re not going to go along with any cuts to beneficiaries that Republicans want,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democrats’ top liaison for policy and messaging, told reporters on a conference call. “Our goal is to preserve Medicare as it is and to strengthen it for future generations.”
The New York Democrat said his party is more than willing to slow the growth of Medicare payouts with reforms such as negotiating drug prices, modifying delivery systems, and cutting waste and fraud. But he was skeptical that Republicans would go along with them.
“They’re really not interested in strengthening Medicare,” Schumer said. “They want to end it.”
Republicans are negotiating with the White House on what spending to cut in order to increase the federal government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, which economists say is vital to preventing another economic collapse. GOP leaders have pushed to extract concessions on House-passed plan to replace Medicare with a voucher system, but Democrats say it’s a non-starter.
Numerous House Republicans reject the Treasury Department’s warning that failing to raise the debt ceiling by August 2 would have drastic consequences. But Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) have acknowledged in recent days that increasing the limit by then is vital to the health of the economy.
“Time is running out to get a deal to avert a default on our obligations,” Schumer said. “We know the [Paul Ryan Medicare] plan will never pass, so the sooner Republicans admit it the sooner we can move on and pursue consensus areas to reduce the deficit.”
Schumer was joined on the call by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), who on Monday co-wrote a letter to the White House demanding that the House GOP Medicare plan be taken off the table in the negotiations. The letter was also signed by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL).