Obama Non-Committal on Means-Testing Medicare - Today's Q's for O's WH - 11/26/12

During the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, President Obama proposed as part of a broad deal - and in exchange for revenue increases - more than $200 billion in cuts to Medicare spending and the implementation of means-testing for some recipients.

"I've said that means-testing on Medicare, meaning people like myself,…you can envision a situation where, for somebody in my position, me having to pay a little bit more on premiums or co-pays or things like that would be appropriate," t he president said in response to a question from ABC News during a July 2011 briefing.

Is that option still on Obama's table as part of negotiations over the so-called "fiscal cliff"?

White House spokesman Jay Carney today would not say, perhaps reflecting just how difficult a sell such a change would be among Democrats and with the powerful AARP:

DEVIN DWYER: On entitlements: last year from this podium, the president expressed openness - as part of a major debt deal - to means-testing Medicare, or asking higher-income recipients to pay higher premiums. I think his campaign said during the campaign that he would propose a 15-percent hike on premiums for recipients in parts B and D in 2017, down the road. Does that stuff remain on the table, and can you give us a sense of what changes are being discussed here now?

JAY CARNEY: What I can tell you is what the president has said, and that is that he believes and understands that in order to achieve a deal, a compromise, that everybody has to make some tough choices. And he remains committed to that principle.

It should be noted that through the Affordable Care Act, significant savings in our health care entitlements have already been locked in. It should be noted that in the president's own proposal, in his budget, that we - he calls for an additional, I believe, $340 billion in savings out of health care programs. So I think he's demonstrated his seriousness when it comes to recognizing that we need to enact reforms in our entitlement programs that strengthen those programs and produce savings. And that's the approach he'll take.

But I'm not going to get into the specifics and negotiate line items on what those reforms might look like as part of an overall package. But he understand that that's - that compromise requires both sides to make tough choices.

DWYER: So does what the president said [in July 2011] about means-testing still stand?

CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to get into specifics because I think that should be left to the negotiators, left to the leaders. But as a general principle, he believes that we - you know, that compromise requires compromise and that it requires tough choices on all sides.

DWYER: May I ask you real quickly on the situation in the Congo that we're seeing unfold in Eastern Congo. It's just the country is on the verge of war. By many accounts, it's a humanitarian disaster already. Is the administration engaged on this issue, and is there any consideration of appointing an envoy to the region there?

CARNEY: I can tell you that Assistant Secretary Carson is in the region working on this issue. I would refer you to the State Department for more on his activity. The president is updated through PDB [presidential daily briefing] on the issue - on the developments there in the Congo and is obviously very concerned about the violence and the loss of life. But for more details, I'd refer you to the State Department.