Black Caucus chairman backs means-testing to trim Medicare costs

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) on Friday proposed means-testing Medicare benefits as a way to reduce the deficit, an indication that Democrats could be warming to the idea as a way to compromise with Republicans on the so-called "fiscal cliff."

Cleaver, the influential chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, suggested Friday that more aggressive means-testing would be a good alternative to cutting program benefits for seniors.

"I think most rational people, including Democrats, agree we have to make some cuts and deal with Medicare," Cleaver said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

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"Let's have some means testing because I don't think that cutting benefits at this time is going to go over well. We can do means-testing and reduce the payments [to the wealthy]," Cleaver said.

The Missouri Democrat is remembered for his opposition to the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, which he called a "sugar-coated satan sandwich" on Twitter.

That deal included about $917 billion in spending cuts over 10 years and ordered a special congressional supercommittee to produce a deficit-reduction plan.

The committee's failure is what will trigger sequestration, the across-the-board-cuts set to hit Jan. 1, unless lawmakers act to stop it.

Republicans have long advocated for means-testing within Medicare. Under the House GOP budget, wealthy taxpayers would receive means-tested subsidies to purchase private healthcare coverage. 

President Obama has also vocally supported more means testing in the program.

Some parts of Medicare are already means-tested. Wealthier seniors have had to pay higher premiums for Medicare's Supplementary Medical Insurance, the portion that covers doctor's bills, since 2007. And in 2011, they began to pay more for their prescription drug benefit.

On "Morning Joe," Cleaver cited Medicare fraud as another problem that needs attention.

"We end up losing billions of dollars a year through fraud and people actually mismanaging Medicare," he said. "We've got to tighten it up." 

— This story was updated at 9:43 a.m.