Vice President Joe Biden set a goal of at least $1 trillion in budget cuts from negotiations with congressional leaders on the federal debt as talks turned to Medicare, a contentious issue that risks replicating a partisan divide on Capitol Hill.
Democrats in the meeting yesterday ruled out concessions on Medicare without Republican agreement to raise tax revenue, a step the party’s leaders so far have rejected, according to someone familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity. Biden underscored the issue in remarks to reporters afterward.
“I made clear today that revenues have to be in the deal,” Biden said, even as he expressed optimism about prospects for the talks. Negotiators are on a pace “to get above $1 trillion” in cuts for a “down payment on the process,” he said. There is no agreement yet, a participant in the talks who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly said on condition of anonymity.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said he is “confident we can get to over $1 trillion in immediate cuts,” though he told reporters that “tax increases cannot pass the House.”
The focus on the politically charged issue of entitlements, which last week undermined a similar five-month attempt at a bipartisan deal, will test whether Republicans and Democrats can find common ground amid an increasingly partisan battle in Congress over the future of Medicare.
The Senate is preparing to vote this week on a House Republican budget crafted by Representative Paul Ryan that would privatize Medicare for people who turn 65 starting in 2022. The plan was a leading issue in a special election yesterday for a vacant House seat in New York.
Republicans have demanded reductions in spending as a condition for passing legislation to raise the $14.3 trillion statutory debt limit. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner projected on May 2 that the government will run out of options to avoid a default if the limit is not raised by early August.