By all accounts, the budget talks between President Obama and House Speaker Boehner have stalled, and one reason is a failure to come to some reasonable agreement on spending cuts. Richard Durbin, a left-wing senator from Illinois was told he had assurances from the White House that they would not agree to raising the Medicare age from 65 to 67. This intransience on the part of the Administration is a bad idea and ultimately threatens the long-term future of Medicare.
Medicare was designed in 1965, when the average life expectancy ranged from 67-74, depending on whether you were male or female. The life expectancy in 2012 is 75-81. Americans are living roughly 10 percent longer. Why then, is a 3 percent increase in the retirement age so out of line? If anything, we should be questioning whether an increase in the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 is too modest, rather than too much.
The reasons for the Administration dropping their previous willingness to negotiate is likely due to dissent in the ranks, particularly at the House level, where Nancy Pelosi was speaking vociferously against the proposal. While a re-elected Obama, left to his own devices, might be willing to make a reasonable deal with a re-elected and strengthened House Republican majority, Pelosi has different interests.
Pelosi and her party need to get back in the majority and the surest path for left-wingers to win political victories has been to exploit Social Security and Medicare as a way of rallying their political base. While House Democrats have no real power, Barack Obama is never one to do anything that would make himself look un-cool in the eyes of the Left, even if it means allowing Medicare to continue to wither on the vine.
The people that are really hurt by what amounts to a reactionary desire to pretend we still live in the world of 1965 are ultimately the people who are going to need Medicare the most. People who aren’t rich, might not have well-funded private long-term insurance or good Medicare supplements. In short, the exact kind of person the system was designed for to begin with.
Instead, we’re going to continue spending money on retirees who are financially comfortable, who, if they chose to retire at 65 anyway, could still carry themselves for a couple years, or just work until they’re 67. For all his “fairness” rhetoric, that’s who Barack Obama is defending—along with the political career of Nancy Pelosi—when he refuses to lead on this, and any other topic that might involve saying unpopular things.
Ironically, another demographic that’s helped by a refusal to restructure Medicare are those who oppose the very creation of the system on philosophical grounds. The more years that go by with a financially unstable framework, the harder it is to sustain. At some point in the future, the system just collapses from within.
There’s no reason for Barack Obama to care—by that point, he’ll be a rich private citizen. But there are going to be a lot of good-willed people who voted for him that are going to bear the brunt of his failure to lead.
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com