Neal said he would consider raising the eligibility age of Medicare by one month a year. He said cracking down harder on fraud in Medicare could save $60 billion a year in savings.
Each lawmaker interviewed was willing to consider higher Medicare premium payments for the wealthy and other such “means-testing’’ options.
Democrats contend they have the upper hand in negotiations, a position they believe will only get stronger if no deal is reached before the end of the year. If tax cuts for all Americans are allowed to expire at midnight on Dec. 31, as scheduled, then Democrats would quickly introduce legislation to restore the cuts for 98 percent of the people and leave out the wealthy. Republicans would face intense pressure to pass such legislation.
Democrats are hopeful that even the threat of that scenario will force Republicans to accept a “baby grand bargain” on taxes before year’s end, while delaying consideration of changes to entitlement benefit programs until 2013, Markey said.
“I don’t want to go off the cliff, but I don’t want a deal at the expense of the middle class,’’ he said.
Senator John Kerry did not respond directly when asked for his view on entitlements but said in an e-mailed statement that “Republicans have to get serious about revenues and get precise. I’ve heard a lot of vague talk about closing loopholes, but I want to see what loopholes they’re talking about and what revenues they’re talking about.’’
Adding to the Democrats’ sense of strength is a belief that the fiscal cliff is actually a “fiscal slope.’’ The impact of extracting an estimated $500 billion from the economy — in the form of expiring tax cuts and automatic “sequestration’’ spending cuts agreed to in 2011 — would not come all at once; rather, it would be spread over the course of 2013. There would still be time to act to repair the damage in the early part of the year, although a message of continued gridlock could roil markets sooner.