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What John Boehner Didn't Say About the Debt Ceiling and Medicare Reform

1:14 AM, May 10, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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A key excerpt from John Boehner's Monday night speech on the debt ceiling: 

“So let me be as clear as I can be. Without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt, there will be no debt limit increase. And the cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given. 

“We should be talking about cuts of trillions, not just billions. 

“They should be actual cuts and program reforms, not broad deficit or debt targets that punt the tough questions to the future. 

“And with the exception of tax hikes -- which will destroy jobs -- everything is on the table. That includes honest conversations about how best to preserve Medicare, because we all know, with millions of Baby Boomers beginning to retire, the status quo is unsustainable.

“If we don’t act boldly now, the markets will act for us very soon. That's the warning we got from Standard & Poor's a few weeks ago. 

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait writes: "Boehner says he wants to cut trillions, which would have to entail cutting Social Security and Medicare." Politico's Jake Sherman came to a similar conclusion: "by mentioning 'trillions' in long-term cuts, Boehner is clearly putting entitlement reform in play — including Medicare — since it would be nearly impossible to cut trillions without affecting entitlement spending."

But the House Republicans' budget resolution cuts spending by $6.2 trillion compared to the president's budget over the next decade. The GOP budget does not touch Social Security. And Paul Ryan's proposed Medicare reform wouldn't begin to go into effect for 10 years*--that is, outside the budget window. So why would anyone claim that the only way to achieve trillions in savings is through Medicare and Social Security cuts?

In fact, the Ryan budget achieves about $2 trillion in spending cuts just by capping non-defense discretionary spending and restraining the growth of Medicaid:

Yes, Boehner said that "everything is on the table," including "honest conversations" about preserving Medicare. But does having an "honest conversation" mean anything more than continuing to make the case for Medicare reform in the long run?

Boehner's statement about Medicare seems mainly to be a response to some people who were confused last week by the House GOP's decision not to move Medicare reform legislation through committee. Those who were confused (namely, members of the media) took that as a sign that Republicans were "abandoning" Medicare reform or at least wavering. As Ramesh Ponnuru and Yuval Levin explained, Republicans have never dreamed of getting Medicare reform past Harry Reid's Senate or Barack Obama's White House.

*(The House GOP budget does accept Obamacare's cuts to Medicare Advantage and dedicates those dollars towards Medicare's solvency, rather than paying for a new entitlement for the under-65 set.)

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