KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Obama, GOP Leaders Stake Out Positions In ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Face-Off

President Barack Obama and GOP congressional leaders signal what they're looking for in a budget deal to avert the looming "fiscal cliff," offering their respective takes on tax increases, spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs.

The New York Times: Obama Vows Firm Stance On Deficit-Reduction Plan
President Obama reassured leaders of labor and progressive groups on Tuesday that he will not yield to Congressional Republicans and extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans as he negotiates for a deficit-reduction plan to avoid looming tax increases and spending cuts. … The $4 trillion, 10-year plan includes the commitment to $1.1 trillion in spending cuts that Mr. Obama and Congress have already agreed to, he added, as well as additional spending cuts that include $340 billion in savings from Medicare and Medicaid. And, Mr. Carney said, Mr. Obama "insists as the essence of balance that revenue be included — $1.6 trillion in revenue" (Calmes and Greenhouse, 11/14).

NPR: Facing Cliff, Obama Tries Again For 'Grand Bargain'
Compromise is suddenly the watchword in Washington, as negotiations over taxes, spending and entitlements begin in advance of another self-imposed deadline, popularly known as the "fiscal cliff." Automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts are slated for the first of the year, unless the president and Congress take action. Leaders on both sides say they are willing to meet in the middle, but that makes their constituents worry about what any compromise will cost them. … Republicans, while offering an olive branch to the president in the form of greater tax revenues, are still adamant that income tax rates should not go up, even on the richest Americans. Liberal groups are just as adamant that no changes be made to Social Security or Medicare — something the president has been open to in the past (Liasson, 11/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Sets Steep Tax Target
President Barack Obama will begin budget negotiations with congressional leaders Friday by calling for $1.6 trillion in additional tax revenue over the next decade, far more than Republicans are likely to accept and double the $800 billion discussed in talks with GOP leaders during the summer of 2011. Mr. Obama, in a meeting Tuesday with union leaders and other liberal activists, also pledged to hang tough in seeking tax increases on wealthy Americans. In one sign of conciliation, he made no specific commitment to leave unscathed domestic programs such as Medicare, leaving the door open to spending cuts many fellow Democrats oppose (Hook and Lee, 11/14).

The Washington Post: Obama To Open Talks With $1.6 Trillion Plan To Raise Taxes On Corporations, Wealthy
President Obama is taking a hard line with congressional Republicans heading into negotiations over the year-end fiscal cliff, making no opening concessions and calling for far more in new taxes than Republicans have so far been willing to consider (Goldfarb and Montgomery, 11/13).

Los Angeles Times: Speaker John Boehner Still Faces A GOP House Divided
In both the House and Senate, key Republicans have shown a willingness to compromise on taxes as part of a broader deal to cut spending on entitlements, such as Medicare — especially after an election when high-profile tea party candidates lost their Senate races. That support could give Boehner a political safety net in negotiations (Mascaro, 11/13).

USA Today: Tea Party Senator Digs In Against Talk Of Compromise
The political action committee founded by Sen. Jim DeMint, a darling of the Tea Party movement, was three-for-nine in picking conservative Senate candidates this year — after spending more than $8.7 million. … Boehner, in post-election remarks on Capitol Hill and in a national television interview, said House Republicans would be open to a deficit-reduction plan that includes new revenue through tax reform. He also said that comprehensive immigration reform was overdue and that the 2010 health care reform law — abhorred by conservatives — is the "law of the land." The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party opposes tax increases and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, and favors repealing of "Obamacare" (Troyan, 11/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate GOP Leader: Up To Obama To Present Deficit Plan That's Not A Campaign Slogan
The Kentucky Republican said that like House Speaker John Boehner, he is ready to support new revenue as part of a deal that reins in government benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid. But like the speaker, McConnell also says it’s a non-starter to talk about raising tax rates as the president has proposed for the wealthiest taxpayers (11/13).

Politico: Boehner And McConnell Play Good Cop, Bad Cop
Here's how different things are for House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the upcoming fiscal cliff negotiations. McConnell warned President Barack Obama on the floor Tuesday against "thumbing his nose" at the GOP and insisting that "if Republicans aren't willing to do things his way, he won’t do anything at all." On the same day, Boehner's chief aide, Mike Sommers, quietly headed down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to discuss negotiations with Rob Nabors, Obama's top legislative hand (Sherman and Raju, 11/13).

News outlets also focus on how Medicare and health care spending factor into the 'fiscal cliff' calculus -  

Kaiser Health News: Avoiding The 'Fiscal Cliff' Likely Means Changes In Medicare
Expectations are high.  President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, say they want to avert the fiscal cliff, that toxic mix of expiring tax breaks and automatic spending reductions set to begin in January.  If Republicans make concessions on taxes, Democrats and the president say, they'll move on entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, as part of a larger deal to reduce the federal deficit (Carey, 11/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Budget Negotiators Get Options For $385B In Health Care Savings, Mostly From Medicare
Hoping to head off wider health care cuts in upcoming budget talks, a think tank close to the White House is unveiling a plan for how to save $385 billion, mostly from Medicare. Medicaid and the new health care law are largely spared from cuts in the blueprint being released Wednesday by the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. Instead, it targets Medicare service providers, from the pharmaceutical industry to hospitals and nursing homes. And higher-income Medicare recipients would face increased monthly premiums for outpatient and prescription coverage (11/14).

CQ HealthBeat: Providers Mobilize Amid Fears About Fiscal Cliff, Grand Bargain
Provider groups Tuesday appeared increasingly on edge about possible cutbacks in health care spending as Congress returned to work for a lame-duck session and moved toward negotiations on how to avoid the combination of tax hikes and spending cuts commonly called the fiscal cliff. Automatic spending cuts in the debt ceiling law spare Medicaid from cuts — but the groups made clear Tuesday that they don’t see the program as immune in talks to develop deficit reduction alternatives to avoid such sequestration. Nursing home owners, doctors who treat HIV/AIDS patients and cancer doctors separately warned of the harm that would be done by reductions to Medicaid reimbursements. In letters to Congress and statements, they also urged that Congress avoid cuts in federal spending on health research and the drug review process (Norman, 11/13).

USA Today: The Fiscal Cliff: Will Obama, Congress Cut Budget Deal?
Promise or peril, some Americans are going to feel the pinch. Should Obama get his way, those with annual incomes above $250,000 will face higher tax bills. If Republicans come out on top, tax rates and defense spending will remain the same, but social programs will face budget cuts. A compromise portends discomfort, most likely in the form of reduced paychecks, jobless benefits and business tax breaks. And a stalemate means higher taxes and reduced federal spending across the board, including at the Pentagon (Wolf, Mullaney and Davis, 11/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Companies Warn About Cutbacks
Some big American companies are making plans to slow investments, lay off workers and pay less-generous dividends if Congress and the Obama administration don't find a way to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. A range of businesses, including defense contractors and hospitals, will be directly affected by the $600 billion in cuts to government spending and end of tax breaks if Washington doesn't otherwise lower the deficit. Other employers worry the reduced spending will hurt them indirectly by slowing economic growth (Linebaugh and Hughes, 11/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Business Leaders Spooked By 'Fiscal Cliff'
Democrats and Republicans said they want to enact a package of long-term measures to reduce the federal budget deficit, which has exceeded $1 trillion for four straight years, but they are divided over issues related to taxes and big entitlement programs like Medicare. Mr. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) have suggested they are open to compromise and don't want to replay the brinkmanship that occurred last year during a fight over raising the government's borrowing limit. But negotiations are almost certain to spill into mid-December, and perhaps even beyond (Paletta and Reddy, 11/13).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Companies Eye Cliff Layoffs, Aetna Chief Says
Aetna Inc. Chief Executive Mark Bertolini, who is among a dozen chief executives meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama later this week, on Monday warned that companies are preparing backup plans that include layoffs if the White House and congressional leaders are unable to reach a deal to avoid the combination of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" (Hughes, 11/13).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.