Medicare Etc.

What Do the Republicans Want?

11.29.12 3:41 PM ET

We're all pretty clear on what Barack Obama wants--a hike in the tax rate by 3.6 percent on dollars earned above $250,000. It's pretty clear and specific.

But what exactly to the Republicans want in return? Matt Yglesias observes that they're being pretty foggy about it, at least publicly:

If Republicans are going to agree to a deficit reduction bill containing a big tax increase, then obviously they're going to want large domestic spending cuts. And if we want the basic operations of the federal government to continue, large domestic spending cuts need to contain meaningful reductions in entitlement spending. But while Democrats have been out there banging the table for their preferred tax increases, it's not at all clear what Republicans negotiating objectives on the entitlement side are. Paul Ryan's budget, for example, cut Medicare spending by exactly $0 over ten years, promised small cuts in years 11-20, and then giant cuts in years 21-30. Obviously if Democrats proposed that timetable as their spending "concession" Republicans would laugh them out of the room. But that was their proposal!

Now of course, they may be saying specific things in private that Matt and I have no idea about. But here's the problem.

I have written, inviting the wrath of other liberals, that I could see the Democrats agreeing to a gradual increase in the Medicare eligibility age so that it matches the (already ongoing, agreed to by Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill) increase in the Social Security reitrement age, which will hit 67 by I think 2028.

I understand that this is a benefit cut. But the point of a compromise is that if you want to get something, you have to give something. As Yglesias notes above, if you don't make some cuts to entitlements, you're going to end up with horribly severe domestic spending cuts. So if Obama wants these tax hikes, which is going to be a steep hill to climb in any case, he has to give something that has meaning.

I thought maybe this gradual increase was that something. Maybe it still is. But now look at this poll result from Washington Post/ABC, just out:

Democrats, Republicans and independents also unite in opposition to hiking the entry age for Medicare, with the opposition particularly stiff among Democrats. Opposition to such a change peaks (naturally) among those aged 50 to 64 — the very people who will soon reap those benefits.

Wow. Republicans are as against raising the Medicare eligibility age as Democrats are! It's 71 percent of Dems and 68 percent of Reps (margin of error stuff), and 62 percent of independents.

Does this change my thinking? Maybe. Why should Obama agree to a cut the American people very clearly don't want? If Alan Simpson were here among us, he'd say something like, "Because the American people habitually want the benefits of government while not wanting to pick up the cost."

To which I say: But they are showing a clear preference for how to pick up the cost! In this Post poll, they say tax the rich. Democrats and independents say it, that is, not Republicans. Unfortunately, it's Republicans that Obama has to deal with. I expect they're going to be cagey about what exactly they want until the last possible minute, and I'd be surprised, to be honest, if they'd accept the Medicare age increase as Obama's only giveback in the event he offers it.