As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) push the Republican party to shut down the government in a bid to defund the Affordable Care Act, some House Republicans are hoping to use the coming fight over raising the nation’s debt limit as leverage to score structural reforms to entitlement programs.
During an interview with Minnesota Public Radio on Friday, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the the Committee on Education and the Workforce, hinted that Republicans should refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless President Obama agrees to raise the eligibility age for the Medicare program, keeping millions of younger seniors from receiving health care coverage.
“I think the real answer to the debt limit is to get some agreement from Senate Democrats and more specifically the White House that you’ve got to do something about entitlements,” Kline said in a reference to Social Security and Medicare.
In particular, Kline is interested in ideas such as a higher retirement age.
When asked whether it’s appropriate to push for such complex changes with just weeks to go before the federal government runs out of borrowing room, Kline said, “yes.”
“I think it’s a better place to have this fight,” he said.
Raising the Medicare eligibility age has been floated by Republicans and President Obama, but the policy would only save the federal government a net $5.7 billion, while shifting an added $11.4 billion in health care spending to states, employers, and individuals — who would in turn have to pay for the health care spending of younger enrollees. In fact, one report from the Center for American Progress found that if lawmakers were to raise the eligibility age from 65 to 67, as many as 5.4 million 65- and 66-year-olds would have to search for alternative sources of coverage by postponing retirement, enrolling in private insurance, or qualifying for Medicaid. Loss of coverage would also exacerbate the economic insecurity of workers close to retirement, 62 percent of whom say they will delay their retirements as a result of the recession.
The change could have a smaller financial impact on Kline, however, who in 2011, reported a net worth of “between $251,000 and $676,000 with no reported liabilities.”
Last week, during a closed-door meeting with Republicans, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced that the party won’t support raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit unless Obama agrees to a one-year delay of the health care law. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told a fundraiser in August that “we’re not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms” on “the mandatory side” of the ledger, impacting programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.