UYGUR: Democrats just mauled Republicans in the last congressional election on the issue of Medicare. So they have this great whipping stick to use in 2012, right?
And of course the Republicans are reeling a little bit. They`re standing their ground, but they`re hurt, dawg.
So what are the Democrats going to do? Well, they might be poised do what they do best — snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Today, Vice President Joe Biden resumed talks aimed at reaching a budget deal before a potential government default this summer. Now, that makes sense. And he`s talking about over $1 trillion in cuts, but other Democratic leaders have said Medicare is on the table in these negotiations.
Does that make sense? I`m not so sure. Why would you do that? You have them on the ropes. Why would you let them off?
But a lot of Democrats say it`s OK, because this would be Medicare reform, not Medicare cuts. Now, is that a real distinction? And what does it mean?
Let`s try to figure that out together. The guy who is going to help me do that is someone who might be able to shed a lot of light on this. He`s Joe Biden`s former chief economist, Jared Bernstein. He`s now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Jared, thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
JARED BERNSTEIN, SR. FELLOW, CENTER ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES: My pleasure, Cenk.
UYGUR: All right. Now, you`ve seen that Vice President Biden said that we have got a lot of big-ticket items on the table here. And other Democrats have said it as well.
First, is that a good idea, to put Medicare on the table here just as the Democrats have the Republicans on the ropes?
BERNSTEIN: Well, the way I hear that — I mean, I`m not in the room anymore, but the way I hear that, I know the way Joe Biden thinks about Medicare, I know the way President Obama thinks about this issue as a key health care security issue for older persons. And the idea that you would take that guaranteed benefit away and replace it with a voucher, I guarantee you is anathema to these Democrats, and you will not see that in the negotiations.
UYGUR: I know. I know. But Jared, that`s easy. No, no. But that`s easy, right?
UYGUR: So I want to get into the details that are hard.
UYGUR: I know they`re not going to say we`re taking away guaranteed benefits. Democrats wouldn`t agree to that. That`s simple, right?
UYGUR: But when you get into the specifics, for example, they say they want to cut waste and fraud. Again, that`s also easy. Everybody`s in favor of that.
They say that they want to negotiate with drug companies. Let`s pause there for a second. I thought the Obama health care bill did not allow us to negotiate with drug companies. So where is that coming from?
BERNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, one of the things they`re going to be sitting down and talking about is new ways to control costs in health care spending across the board. And I think that`s precisely the kind of distinction you want to make here.
I mean, there`s no doubt, Cenk — and you know this as well as I do — that health care spending — and it`s worse in the private sector than the public — is on an unsustainable course. So what these negotiators need to do is preserve the guaranteed benefit, and in a balanced way, get under the hood. And by the way —
UYGUR: No, no, no, Jared.
BERNSTEIN: Let me just say, if they can shift to, for example, generic drugs under Medicare, that`s probably $100 billion in savings.
UYGUR: But that`s what I`m talking about. If that`s Medicaid reform, I`m in, that`s lovely. But can we even do that? Isn`t that part of the bill that we are not allowed to negotiate with the drug companies?
BERNSTEIN: There has to be new legislation that allows for that kind of negotiation. So, you know —
BERNSTEIN: Believe me, there are new ideas out there that can amplify some of these savings without affecting the experience that I think seniors have on Medicare of this very favorable guaranteed benefit program.
UYGUR: All right. Look, if you open that issue back up, I think that`s terrific. I think it leads to huge savings for the American people.
OK, that`s good reform. Now let`s go on to the next set of questions on Medicare, because the Republicans want to, for example, raise the eligibility age and they want to cut benefits.
Now, is there any chance that the Democrats are going to agree to those last two things?
BERNSTEIN: On Medicare? Yes. I don`t think so. I don`t think so at all. Again, I`m not in the room, but those are precisely the kinds of service delivery benefits that the Democrats want to preserve. And it`s the key distinction between, as you well know, between where the Republicans want to take this and where — look, the Republican thing is a big risk shift, a big cost shift from government on to the backs of seniors, and the Democrats are going to do everything they can to present that shift.
But at the same time, they have to implement reform that gets the costs on a sustainable path. And there are ways to do that that improve the cost-effectiveness of Medicare, not hurt the consumer side.
UYGUR: So, Jared, last thing then. You`re saying no actual cuts as far as you know and suspect, not raising the eligibility age.
Is there anything else that would be on the table in terms of Medicare for the Democrats?
BERNSTEIN: Nothing that I know of. I mean, again, I think the things that I know about, the things that I`ve heard about — both, by the way, publicly discussed right now — are the kinds of things that help you control costs in the spirit of cost-effectiveness.
So, you know, folks not wasting their money on treatments that don`t do anything, in fact, may actually be more harmful than good, that`s the kind of reforms that we need and that`s the kind that I believe the Democrats will go after.
UYGUR: All right. Jared Bernstein, thank you so much for joining us.
BERNSTEIN: My pleasure.
UYGUR: Former chief economist for Vice President Biden.
All right. A great pleasure having you on. Very informative, actually. Thank you.
Transcribed by the Barefoot Accountant of Accountants CPA Hartford, Connecticut, LLC.
Accountants CPA Hartford, Connecticut, LLC, located in Berlin, Connecticut, offers quality accounting, auditing, tax, bookkeeping, and QuickBooks consulting services at fees of one-third of those of our competitors to individuals and businesses across a wide spectrum of industries throughout the entire United States. William Brighenti is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor. For all of your accounting, auditing, bookkeeping, tax return preparation, tax planning, and QuickBooks services, please consider us: (860) 249-1323.