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Medicare Eligibility Age Off The Table In Sequestration Talks, White House Says

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WASHINGTON -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney emphatically ruled out including any provision raising the eligibility age of Medicare as part of a deal to eliminate or replace the impending sequestration cuts.

"Is the president open to raising the eligibility age for Medicare?" Carney was asked during Monday's daily briefing.

"No," he responded.

That the White House is ruling out such a change to Medicare is welcome news for Democrats, who have argued that increasing the eligibility age from 65 would save an insufficient amount of money and should not be considered in deficit reduction talks. President Barack Obama had put the proposal on the table during debt ceiling negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in July 2011. He retracted the offer when the two tried to hammer out a deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" in December 2012.

But while Democrats may rejoice over this new development, they will likely be disheartened by another. Carney said on Monday that the president would be open to reducing Social Security's benefit structure as part of a "big deal" to avert sequestration. That proposal, known as chained CPI, would alter the annual adjustment in how benefits are paid to Social Security recipients by using a less generous baseline of inflation.

"He has put forward a technical change, as part of a big deal," said Carney. "A technical change of CPI is possible as part of a big deal."

The comments were a rare instance in which Carney was willing to negotiate the contours of a legislative deal from the press briefing room podium. On Monday, he laid out the case for why Congress needed to reach a deal to avert sequestration. Without action, starting in March, there will be a $1 trillion reduction in spending on defense, Medicare and discretionary programs over the next decade.

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