House Democrats would reject deficit supercommittee Medicare benefit cuts

A group of House liberals is already pushing back after reports emerged Wednesday that fellow Democrats on the supercommittee have proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare benefit cuts.

"I don't want to hear Democrats suggesting that we have those types of cuts in Medicare," said Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. "I hope that's not true."

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D.Ill.), co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on Seniors, echoed that warning.

"The very idea of reducing benefits … is unacceptable," Schakowsky said. "I'm not against making Medicare more efficient [but] I am absolutely, unequivocally opposed to cutting benefits."

On Tuesday, Democrats on the 12-member budget committee presented Republicans with a sweeping proposal that includes hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts and more than $1 trillion in new tax hikes, aides told The Hill. The plan was backed by a majority of the panel's Democrats, the aides said.

Although details remain vague, Reuters reported on Wednesday that the Democrats' plan includes about $400 billion in Medicare reductions, split roughly between senior benefit cuts and reductions in payments to healthcare providers.

Rangel said he heard Wednesday that "Democrats and the Republicans [on the supercommittee] were closer together."

"But reading that story," he added, "was very disappointing."

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), for his part, said he simply doesn't believe the report.

"That is not accurate – not accurate – because they can't say anything about it," Conyers said of the supercommittee members. "I just left [Rep.] Jim Clyburn [D-S.C.] going to a meeting. He can't talk about it, and neither can anybody else. 

"That's my basis," he added, "for saying it's not true."

The remarks came following a rainy press conference outside the Capitol, where a number of liberal Democrats warned that they'll oppose any supercommittee proposal that cuts benefits under Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.

"We must not balance the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). "Many of us will oppose any proposal that will come from the supercommittee that has any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

"The crisis is joblessness," Nadler added. "The debt is not as big a crisis." 

Noting that Medicare seniors have a median annual income of roughly $21,000, Schakowsky said there are places other than benefits lawmakers should be looking to find deficit savings. Empowering the government to negotiate drug prices under Medicare's prescription drug benefit, she mentioned, would save the government billions of dollars without harming the seniors reliant on the program.

"This is not a welfare program," Schakowsky said. "This is a program that people have paid for all of their working life."