Hensarling To Dems: Want Higher Taxes? Agree To Partially Privatize Medicare

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Shortly after catching heat from Democrats, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) addressed reporters in the Cannon House Office Building to revise and extend controversial Tuesday comments, which threw the Super Committee’s prospects into doubt. But he indicated that the two parties are stuck in a standoff — one they don’t really have time for. And Republicans won’t budge, he insisted, unless Democrats take agree to far-reaching plan to change Medicare.

“Something has to be at the Congressional Budget Office by Monday,” Hensarling said.

Hensarling hinted that his hard line on new taxes might not be so hard … but only if Democrats are willing to fundamentally overhaul Medicare.“I will give my Democratic colleagues credit for putting at least some reforms on the table, but fundamentally they do not solve the problem,” Hensarling said. “If you don’t like our plan, how about a bipartisan plan? We would be willing to negotiate around the Rivlin-Domenici Medicare plan — it’s not our version, it’s a bipartisan version.”

The plan he’s referring to, authored by former CBO director and current Brookings scholar Alice Rivlin, and former Republican Sen. Pete Demonici, would fundamentally change the single-payer nature of Medicare. It would give seniors a choice between traditional government Medicare, or provide them with a voucher to buy insurance on a private market. It mimics in key ways a plan Newt Gingrich proposed in the 1990s, which he claimed would cause government Medicare to “wither on the vine.” And it’s part of Mitt Romney’s campaign platform to win the GOP presidential nomination.

This is the type of concession Hensarling and Super Committee Republicans want to see before they’ll agree to higher net tax revenue — a huge policy shift Democrats aren’t likely to take.

“I’m waiting for the Democrats to put fundamental reform on the table,” Hensarling said. “I’m not going to negotiate against myself. That is one offer we have put on the table that they can accept. I’m not going to negotiate against myself…. I’m not rejecting any offer out of hand. I’m still waiting for a new offer to be put on the table.”

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