Not so, Obama replied, saying he had indeed called Boehner first, but he was asleep. “Yeah, it was an early night for us,” called out one lawmaker, drawing laughs from a group that lost eight seats in November.
Later in the same meeting, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia referred to a lack of trust between the two sides. According to participants in the meeting, he chalked up Obama’s delay in presenting a budget this spring to politics.
The president replied that if he were solely interested in politics he would be running a “Mediscare” campaign rather than holding meetings with Republicans.
Across the Capitol, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota singled out an interview in which he said the president accused Republicans of wanting to eviscerate Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
“Nobody here believes those programs ought to be gutted,” Thune told Obama, the senator later recalled. Instead, he told the president that Republicans want to preserve the programs for the future.
The president stood his ground, saying the Republican plan to turn Medicaid and food stamps into all-purpose grants to the states would inevitably lead to deep cuts in services for the needy.
By all accounts, Medicare, which provides health care to millions of seniors, is the key to any deficit-reduction compromise.
In his budget a year ago, Obama proposed saving $305 billion over a decade from the program, although little of that derives from the sort of changes Republicans say are essential to slow the growth in health care costs.
Roughly half would come from drug companies that sell medicine to low-income Medicare beneficiaries. A $63 billion savings would come from changes in payment rules for post-hospital care facilities; $36 billion from lowering the amount of bad debt the government would cover for providers.
An additional $28 billion would come from raising premiums for wealthier seniors beginning in 2017.