The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 16, 2013

Our View: Dems must negotiate on entitlements


The Free Press

— President Barack Obama paid a visit to his Democratic colleagues in the Senate and the House last week to deliver some realistic advice -- they need to be willing to consider changes to entitlement programs in a deal to reduce the federal deficit.

Many Democrats in the Senate and in the House have been reluctant to consider entitlement reform, some even saying it's off the table. Unfortunately, a federal annual operating deficit in excess of $1 trillion calls for changing the status quo.

Obama has offered up specifics on entitlement reform. He said he is willing to consider adjusting the inflation factor downward for automatic increases in some entitlements like Social Security. Not all Democrats agree with him on this. He has been open to the idea of means-testing Medicare subsidies to recipients.

Obama has told his colleagues in Congress that they need to consider these changes to have any chance of striking a deficit reduction deal with the Republican-controlled House. There also seem to be indications that he will not negotiate on entitlements unless a deficit deal has a balanced approach that includes revenue increases.

That's a reasonable approach Democrats in Congress should be able to accept. Indeed, some, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have endorsed the idea.

Democrats have been successful in the past bringing the fear of entitlement reform to their constituents in a way that throws up a roadblock to deficit reduction. We hope they don't take that approach again. Americans should almost fear constant trillion dollar deficits as much if not more than they should fear some kind of entitlement reform.

In fact, there is some suggestion Americans would be willing to accept some entitlement reform as a means to reduce the deficit. Some 40 percent of those surveyed in December by Pew Research Center said they approved of raising the eligibility age of Medicare to reduce the deficit. In another question, 51 percent approved of reducing Medicare benefits for those with higher incomes in order to reduce the deficit.

Some experts believe Medicare costs can be reduced without cutting benefits. One of the nation's largest private health insurance companies, UnitedHealth, says changing Medicare from a fee-for-service system to one of managed care, coordinated payments and incentives for patients to be healthy and doctors to perform best practices could save $500 billion over 10 years.

Entitlement reform seems more necessary than ever, and now is the time.