Waiting for Boehner

| Sun Dec. 9, 2012 12:47 PM EST

There's been a tremendous amount of chatter lately about the possibility of raising the Medicare eligibility age as part of a fiscal cliff deal. Why so much chatter? As near as I can tell, it's mostly because Ezra Klein wrote a piece a few days ago suggesting that "smart folks in Washington" think it will be part of a final package. This is testimony to Ezra's immense agenda-setting power among the chattering classes, since there doesn't really appear to be any additional evidence that this is actually on the table.

That's sort of off topic, but I just thought I'd mention it. Amazing guy, that Ezra. What's on topic is Adele Stan, suggesting that maybe the worm is turning and Obama won't agree to raise the Medicare age after all:

Among the Very Serious People who sometimes admit me to their enclaves, strictly with a non-voting observer status, the talk has now turned to, well, if raising the Medicare eligibility age is off the table, then what should Obama offer Boehner in exchanges for raising the tax rates on the wealthy? After all, you gotta give the guy some cover, the reasoning goes.

Can I make a suggestion? How about if John Boehner just tells us? Is there really some reason that Obama is supposed to throw up an endless succession of trial balloons, trying to find one that will make the tea party caucus happy? If Boehner really wants to slash $600 billion from Medicare—which I frankly doubt—then let's hear from him how he wants to do it. It's his baby, after all. I, for one, would like Boehner to stop moaning about how the entire past week has been wasted and instead just tell us what he wants. The guessing game is getting old.

POSTSCRIPT: Why do I doubt that Boehner really wants to cut $600 billion from Medicare? Well, you can do that either by cutting provider payments or by cutting benefits. Obamacare has already cut provider payments by $716 billion, and I frankly doubt that Boehner or anyone else really wants to slash them very much further at this point. And cutting benefits is really unpopular. If you include current retirees, you can kiss off your next election, but if you exclude them you won't have any effect on the deficit. It's not impossible to square this circle, but it's a pretty tough nut.