* Tells fellow liberals, reforms can protect, improve health
* 'Fiscal cliff' talks should not include Medicare, Medicaid
WASHINGTON Nov 27 Assistant Senate Democratic
Leader Dick Durbin, one of U.S. President Barack Obama's leading
allies, urged fellow liberals on Tuesday to consider reforming
the Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs that they have
long fought to shield from cuts.
"Progressives should be willing to talk about ways to ensure
the long-term viability of Medicare and Medicaid" programs for
the elderly and poor, Durbin said in excerpts of a speech he is
to deliver later in the day.
Most Democrats have avoided talking about cutting these two
"entitlement" programs, which have been adding to U.S. budget
deficits because of the growing numbers of participants and
escalating healthcare costs.
Instead, Obama and Democrats in Congress mostly have
stressed the need to raise income taxes on the wealthy as part
of renewed efforts to reduce budget deficits that have topped $1
trillion in each of the past four years.
Lately, Durbin has made high-profile remarks about
eventually reducing Medicare and Medicaid costs, just as
Republicans have begun talking about raising revenues as part of
a tax overhaul effort next year.
On Sunday, Durbin raised the possibility of Democrats
accepting Medicare reforms to make higher-income seniors pay
more for their care. He made his remarks on ABC's "This Week"
The Illinois senator said, however, that the debate over
Medicare and Medicaid should not be part of the more immediate
negotiations on averting the "fiscal cliff" of steep tax hikes
and spending cuts.
"Meaningful reforms can protect the vulnerable and improve
care and efficiency, leaving the programs stronger for future
generations," Durbin said in excerpts of the speech he is to
deliver at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think
Durbin's remarks sought to foster productive talks aimed at
averting on Jan. 1 the fiscal cliff, the start of about $600
billion worth of tax hikes and automatic spending cuts that
could shove the nation into a recession early next year if
allowed to go forward.
The key battle pits Republican demands for deep spending
cuts against Democrats' insistence on tax hikes for the
"We can and we should avoid 'the fiscal cliff' by acting now
- before January 1st - to extend middle class tax cuts for 98
percent of the American people and allow the tax cuts to expire
for those earning over $250,000 a year," Durbin said.
Republicans could block any bill that does not extend all
tax cuts. But after Jan. 1, with all tax cuts expired, Democrats
could draft a bill that cuts taxes only for those earning up to
$250,000, cranking up pressure on Republicans to go along.
Durbin said decisions on Medicare and Medicaid should not be
put off too long.
"Putting the discussions off indefinitely makes our choices
harder, our success less likely and negative effects on current
beneficiaries a near certainty," he said.