WASHINGTON — One of President Barack Obama's Senate allies said Thursday the White House has assured him the president won't yield to GOP demands to increase the eligibility age for Medicare.
Obama's fellow Illinois Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin, told reporters that increasing the Medicare age is no longer one of the items being considered by the White House.
Increasing the eligibility age is a key demand by Republicans seeking cost curbs in popular benefit programs in exchange for higher tax revenues.
Durbin's remarks came as a frustrated House Speaker John Boehner again accused President Barack Obama of dragging out negotiations on any agreement to avoid a fiscal cliff of wide-ranging tax increases and spending cuts that will automatically be triggered in less than three weeks. The two sides appear far apart, and Boehner is scheduled to return home to Ohio today, his office confirmed, though he remains available for negotiations by phone.
Unfortunately, the White House is so unserious about cutting spending that it appears willing to slow-walk any agreement and walk our economy right up to the fiscal cliff, Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday. And doing that puts jobs in our country in danger.
Durbin's comments on the Medicare eligibility age were surprising, since top Senate Democrats like Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have been careful to not preclude the possibility of agreeing to such an increase — perhaps as a late-stage concession in a potential deal between Obama and Boehner.
At a news conference, Reid again called on House Republicans to allow a vote on renewing Bush-era tax cuts for the 98 percent of taxpayers whose incomes are below $250,000. Obama vows to force rates on family income exceeding $250,000 from a top rate of 35 percent to the Clinton-era rate of 39.6 percent. He said the alternative is to allow tax cuts for everyone to expire.
At some point, reality should set in, Reid said.
Reid cited comments by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to Politico.com, in which the incoming No. 2 Senate Republican said, I believe we're going to pass the $250,000 and below sooner or later, and we really don't have much leverage because those rates are going to expire anyway on Dec. 31.
On Thursday, Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican and leading conservative figure, predicted that Obama would prevail in the fight over taxes.
DeMint said a tax increase would amount to a political trophy for Obama but said it would be bad for the country.