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Sen. Tom Coburn defends Medicare proposal, says it's necessary to save the program

Sen. Tom Coburn's Medicare proposal to save $600 billion is drawing fire from Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and the AARP.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: June 29, 2011

Sen. Tom Coburn said that “nobody's going to like” the plan he and Sen. Joseph Lieberman unveiled Tuesday to save $600 billion in Medicare costs over the next decade, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and the AARP quickly rejected it.

But the two senators warned at a news conference that Medicare would only survive if changes are made soon to shore up its finances.

On a related matter, Coburn, R-Muskogee, told reporters that the $9 trillion deficit reduction plan he and his staff are working on would include about $1 trillion in new revenues, meaning higher taxes for some.

The Medicare proposal developed by Coburn and Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, calls for higher premiums, an increase in the eligibility age from 65 to 67 and other measures to pare $600 billion from projected Medicare spending.

“We can't save Medicare as we know it,” Lieberman said at a news conference. “We can only save Medicare if we change it.”

About 50 million Americans receive Medicare benefits, and another 20 million are expected to join the health care program for the elderly in the next decade, Lieberman said, adding that the average person receives three times in benefits what he pays into the system through taxes and premiums.

“If we do nothing, Medicare will go broke and take our government down with it,” Lieberman said.

Acknowledging the tricky politics surrounding entitlement programs, Coburn said, “Nobody's going to like this plan; we understand that.”

He said, though, that the need to take immediate action overrode the politics of the issue.

Democrat responds

Pelosi, D-Calif., called the senators' plan “unacceptable.”

“It is unfair to ask seniors to get less in benefits and wait longer to get onto Medicare — all while Republicans back tax breaks for Big Oil and corporations that ship American jobs overseas,” she said.

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