President defends Medicare, Medicaid in inaugural address

President Obama used his inaugural address Monday to defend popular but expensive entitlement programs, including Medicare.

Obama said it is imperative to reduce healthcare costs, but he made clear that he's not on board with Republican plans to dramatically cut Medicare and Medicaid.

Entitlement programs "do not make us a nation of takers," Obama said, rejecting part of the principle underlying the push to cut entitlements, particularly Medicaid.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously criticized during the 2012 election  the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes, characterizing them as people dependent on government — but the bulk of federal benefits go toward Medicare and Social Security.

Medicare and Social Security "do not sap our nation, they make us stronger," Obama said Monday.

It was one of the few specific policy mentions in a speech that otherwise hewed toward high-level themes. 

Obama's opening shot on entitlements comes just as Congress is gearing up for another round in its perpetual fight over federal spending. Republicans have said they'll push for entitlement reforms in negotiations over either the debt ceiling or a bill to fund the federal government. 

In previous budget negotiations, congressional Democrats successfully beat back efforts to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and change the way Social Security benefits are calculated. 

Republicans have also proposed much deeper cuts, namely a plan to partially privatize Medicare and turn Medicaid into block grants to the states.