On entitlements, Republicans are ready to take any victory they can get

by DAVID NATHER | Politico  |  published on December 9, 2012

The script for a fiscal cliff deal was always supposed to be simple: Democrats would win on taxes. Republicans would win on entitlements.

But what kind of victory can Republicans really hope to win? They’re going to have to lower their sights — by a lot — from the big ideas they pushed in the presidential campaign.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan wanted to turn Medicare into a competition between private plans. They wanted to scale back Medicaid, and turn it into block grants for states.

Nothing like that is remotely likely now. With Obama in the White House for another four years, Republicans are looking for something much smaller, even a down payment on Medicare, that they can still call a victory.

And even that scaled back agenda carries the risk that they’ll become the party that owns Medicare cuts — a policy victory, but a political loss.

For Democrats, it’s easy to see what victory means: getting Republicans to raise taxes on the rich. For Republicans, it’s less dramatic. The outer edge of what they could get from Obama would be an increase in the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 — maybe with some expanded means-testing of Medicare premiums for the wealthy. (There’s already some of that in Obama’s own health care reform law and in the 2003 law that created the Medicare prescription drug program.)

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