Dem Catfood Commission Offer Includes Medicare Cuts

As Jon Walker reported, Democrats on the Catfood Commission II have delivered at a closed-door meeting a draft proposal for $2.5-$3 trillion in deficit reduction. First reported by Reuters, the plan calls for $1 trillion in tax increases, between $200-$300 billion in immediate spending on jobs measures, and $1.7-$2.3 trillion in spending reductions, including $400 billion in Medicare cuts, split evenly between benefit reductions and provider cuts.

I can hear the cries of betrayal now, but I think it’s pretty clear that this is a kabuki proposal, at least based on the words of Democratic aides:

An aide to a Democrat on the committee told HuffPost that the Medicare cuts included in the offer are derived from markers the president had laid out in previous negotiations, and don’t necessarily represent the position of the Democrats on the committee, who question whether there is any proposal at all that Republicans would accept.

Moreover, the offer did not include an increase in the Medicare eligibility age, which was one of the more dangerous ideas put on the table in the last round of grand bargain negotiations.

Not all Democrats on the committee favor the proposal; apparently it only got “majority” support. But the more important point to make is that Republicans won’t accept $1 trillion in tax increases. They might accept about $1 trillion less than that. But the grand bargain just isn’t going to happen. Whether or not Doug Elmendorf of the Congressional Budget Office supports it is of no consequence.

There’s definitely a danger in offering cuts of this type in a proposal. We just saw how Republicans are adept at cherry-picking the ideas they support out of Dem-offered comprehensive plans and daring Democrats to object to that which they’ve already supported. It is true that Max Baucus and others have staked out a position on a “revenues for Medicare swap,” the implication being that no cuts to Medicare would be allowed without increases in revenues. And that’s presumably where this whole thing falls apart.

But there’s a long-term danger to the Democratic brand by continuing to offer cuts to the social safety net in an effort to look reasonable. It eliminates any advantage the party has on kitchen-table issues.

I still see this heading toward scoring the $1 trillion in savings from drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, adding some bells and whistles, and see you later. But that doesn’t mean the process has been without harm to the safety net.

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