Interviews

Senators' Unveil Plan to Save Medicare

Sens. Lieberman, Coburn on their Medicare plan

 

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST OF “YOUR WORLD”: Get slashing, face the thrashing.

My next two guests taking a lot of heat after taking up a plan they say will save money and Medicare. One is a Democratic-leaning independent. The other’s a Republican.

First on Fox--Senators Joe Lieberman and Tom Coburn.

Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.

SEN. TOM COBURN, R- OKLA.: Thank you.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, I- CONN.: Thank you, Neil.

CAVUTO: You must be doing something right, because both sides are tiptoeing around you and, in the case of Nancy Pelosi, criticizing this.

I do want to get your reaction, first, Senator Lieberman, to what Nancy Pelosi had to say, that: "It is unfair to ask seniors to get less in benefits and wait longer to get into Medicare. This proposal is unacceptable, especially for struggling middle-class Americans."

What do you think?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, well, you know, Tom and I expected that people would be critical, because it is easy, politically, to be critical.

But we think it is time to tell the truth to seniors and every other American, which is, in the case of Medicare, for instance, the result, if you don’t do anything to it, is not that it goes on happily forever. It goes bankrupt pretty soon. And then everybody loses the kind of coverage that almost 50 million Americans depend on.

So we’re saying, let’s start now. Take some methodical steps forward that will preserve this program as a government program. Ask people to pay more, but ask wealthier people to pay the most more, so we can save Medicare.

I know it takes a little explanation, and it is not the easiest political shot. But it is clearly what is in the best interests, not only of the seniors, but of our country, because it will help us cut the debt.

CAVUTO: Senator Coburn, the one distinction I -- I think I am able to draw from this plan vs., let’s say, Paul Ryan’s plan is that it would keep Medicare. In other words, his would -- would move us toward a private alternative completely and away from Medicare.

Do I have that right?

COBURN: Yes, I think that is true.

You know, I -- let me comment on, also, the former speaker’s comment. If, in fact, you want to fix things, you have got to have a plan. And she had not put out what she would like to see done, and the option of not putting anything out there or not doing anything is -- as Joe said, in 2016, under the scenario we have today, the hospital trust fund won’t be there anymore. So there’s not going to be hospital payments in just probably five years.

That is their worst-case scenario. It’s going to get worse over the next few years. Look, there’s a lot of ways to fix Medicare, but what we have to do is come together, both sides of the aisle, and here’s -- what can we agree on that will actually save Medicare and that will continue to allow access for our seniors and give them the kind of quality care that they expect and deserve?

CAVUTO: You know, I admire anyone who even touches this third rail. You get quickly electrocuted, but -- when you touch it. But I’m wondering if it serves as sort of a disincentive for some of your colleagues when they see what you have to go through. They saw what Paul Ryan went through. And they just say, oh, the heck with it. Don’t even bother.

LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope not.

I mean, look, part of what Tom and I are saying is, we disagree on a lot of issues, but we agree on the fact that, unless people like Tom Coburn and me get together, our country is going over a fiscal cliff, and that is going to be terrible for our kids and grandkids and everybody else’s kids and grandkids.

The second thing is, I think we have shown that these are some things you can do to really save Medicare and cut the debt. And unless we do something like this, hopefully, as part of a debt ceiling increase, the capital markets, the American people are not going to regain their confidence in our future.

So, I think this is the best kind of thing we can do...

CAVUTO: Present...

LIEBERMAN: ... for our economy.

CAVUTO: Sorry.

Present Medicare beneficiaries and patients are immediately hearing this, gentlemen -- and, Senator Coburn, I will address this to you -- and that they are in danger with this plan.

Does it phase in? Is there an age kick-in at which this would move in? What?

COBURN: Well, the age adjustments on it increase two months every year. So somebody like me, as a baby boomer, somebody born a year after me, would be eligible 65 years and two months.

Somebody born in 1950 would be eligible 65 years and four months. So, it phases in very slowly. But what we know we have to do is we have to, one, make sure that Medicare patients are going to have access, number two, make sure that there is a Medicare program.

Neil, I would put forward to all the Medicare patients listening, anybody that tells you Medicare is going to be the same in five years from now is lying to you. We cannot borrow enough money to fund the hospital trust fund, unless we start making changes now.

And so the option is not what we’re offering, which does have some discomfort with it. The option is a bankrupt system or vastly worse choices two years from now, three years from now, as this problem gets worse.

CAVUTO: If you don’t mind, gentlemen, switching gears, we are getting late word from the Senate Democratic leadership that it is kicking around the idea of working through the July 4 recess.

Senator Lieberman, do you know anything about that? Are you open to that? There does seem to be some irony -- Republicans are charging this -- because they never, the Democrats, never submitted a budget to begin with last year, which could explain in large part why there is this all-night rush right now.

But what do you think? And is that likely?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I have heard those rumors. Actually, I am going right from here to a Senate Democratic Caucus. So, maybe we will hear something...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Oh, so they still invite you to those?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, they do. They do.

CAVUTO: Good.

LIEBERMAN: But I sit -- I sit in the back of the room. But...

(LAUGHTER)

COBURN: Well, let me answer your question specifically.

We have a very brave senator on the Republican side, Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, who has said, we will not go home. The Republicans have surrounded him and said, you’re right. We should not be going home. We should sit here and debate the real issue, not the non-issues, like what we have on the floor today, but the real issues that will address the problems in front of this country.

And to think that we can go take a week off, in the face of a magnitude of uncertainty where there has not been leadership expressed by the president on this, there has not been the hard work to come together to get a deal, is -- he is absolutely right. And I can tell you, we’re not going home. We are going to stay here and work. And so are the Democrats. And it’s going to be our choice to stay here.

LIEBERMAN: Neil, I would just add this.

I am ready to stay. The question is, what are we going to do? Are we going to do something that is meaningful? Because, right now, there is a great frustration in the Senate among Republicans and Democrats that most of us are left out of these discussions.

First, they were Vice President Biden and three members of each House.

CAVUTO: Right. Right. Right.

LIEBERMAN: And now they have gone up to the president, Speaker Boehner, Harry Reid. So what are we going to do?

And I think maybe what you’re seeing here is a response to a kind of grassroots uprising of senators that want to be part of finding a solution.

CAVUTO: OK.

Well, guys, I always commend your effort. We can argue the detail, but no doubting the effort.

Senator Lieberman, Senator Coburn, thank you both very much.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

COBURN: Good to be with you, Neil.

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