Fiscal Cliff

Democrats relish Republican disunity in the fiscal debate, but splits of their own are emerging over Medicare.

By Christi Parsons, Michael A. Memoli and Kathleen Hennessey, Washington Bureau
December 16, 2012, 6:39 p.m.

WASHINGTON — For weeks, Democrats in Congress have been relishing the division and sniping within Republican ranks over whether to raise tax rates. But as negotiations over the budget crisis wear on and shift to a debate over spending cuts, the tables are turning.

Democrats last week aired their own internal battles in the war over the federal deficit. In a petition, a newspaper column, letters and sharply worded comments, top Democrats on Capitol Hill warned the president to protect the social safety net and step back from previous proposals to make major changes.

White House officials insist nothing is off the table, tacitly acknowledging that the president is weighing potential changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as he negotiates with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Although both sides have been reluctant to put details in writing, any deficit reduction deal will almost certainly require significant alterations to these entitlement programs.

The debate is the president’s first major postelection leadership challenge. It could determine not only whether a deal passes, but whether Obama can repair four years of ragged relations with his allies in Congress.

The Democratic fault lines were apparent last week. More than 80 Democrats signed a letter to Obama urging him not to agree to a deal that would raise the eligibility age for Medicare. Obama had moved in that direction last year in a failed attempt to craft a “grand bargain” with Boehner, considering an increase phased in over time.

“It will do great harm to our economy and millions of seniors to raise the Medicare eligibility age or enact other significant cost-shifting alternatives,” the lawmakers wrote.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) was blunt. “Don’t even think about raising the Medicare age,” she said at a news conference Thursday, a day after an opinion piece she wrote appeared in USA Today. Pelosi left little wiggle room for the president, writing that raising the eligibility age “betrays the bedrock promise of Medicare.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, has been in regular contact with administration officials involved in talks with Republicans. Van Hollen, of Maryland, said the White House was “doing a good job of keeping members of Congress informed consistent with the need to preserve the integrity of their discussions with the speaker,” and that members “have confidence that the president is fighting for the priorities he talked about during the election.”

To read entire story, click here.