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Editorial: Democrats should pay heed to Dick Durbin on Medicare, Medicaid

U.S. Sen. Dick Durb |  AP file photo

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin | AP file photo

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Updated: December 30, 2012 3:43PM

Progressives in this country would be wise to listen to Dick Durbin, Illinois’ senior senator.

The No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate this week essentially pleaded with his fellow progressives to give up the false notion that raising taxes on the wealthiest will alone solve the nation’s crippling debt problem.

This comes as talks on averting the Jan. 1 fiscal cliff of tax hikes and crippling spending cuts near a crescendo.

Durbin is right — and the sooner progressives and Democrats get that, the sooner they can get to work on shaping the cost-cutting to Medicaid and Medicare that must be part of any realistic long-term deficit-reduction plan.

Some Republicans in recent days have finally opened the door to raising tax revenues, and now they must follow through. Liberals, unions and other Democrats must respond in kind, by opening the door to reforms to the nation’s safety net.

“Progressives created Social Security and Medicare and we have fought to protect them,” Durbin said in prepared remarks at the Center for America Progress, a progressive think tank. “Refusing to consider any changes isn’t protecting Medicare, it is putting Medicare at risk.”

Durbin argued, convincingly, that changes to the financially unstable Medicare and Medicaid programs are inevitable and should be negotiated carefully and thoughtfully in 2013, after the immediate fiscal cliff is averted. Democrats must be part of those conversations: “If we simply stand by and say ‘don’t touch Medicare in any way, for any reason, ever’ we are inviting a crisis that opponents can exploit to eviscerate Medicare or even end it.”

When you put it that way, the choice is pretty clear.

Ideas for wringing savings out of Medicare and Medicaid are plentiful, from negotiating better prices for Medicaid prescription drugs to possibly means-testing the Medicare program. It’s time all Democrats seriously joined the debate.

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