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Nation/World

October 12, 2013

Accelerated efforts, but no agreement on shutdown

(Continued)

At Obama’s meeting with Senate Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine laid out a proposal to raise the debt limit until the end of January, reopen the government and take a slice out of the health care law.

Under a proposal she and other GOP senators have been developing, a medical device tax that helps finance the health care law would be repealed, and millions of individuals eligible for subsidies to purchase health insurance under the program would be subject to stronger income verification.

At the same time, federal agencies that have been affected by across-the-board cuts would gain greater flexibility in the use of their remaining funds.

Any other items could be negotiated later

Back at the Capitol, Collins said Obama said the proposal “was constructive, but I don’t want to give the impression that he endorsed it.”

For their part, House Republicans previewed a different approach in a late-night meeting Thursday with White House officials.

It, too, would raise the debt limit and avoid a default, as part of a framework that could include easing the across-the-board cuts in exchange for reductions that Obama has supported in the past in benefit programs. That plan, too, seeks changes in Obamacare.

White House officials declined to comment on that proposal, although administration aides were checking with key Democrats in Congress to gauge their reaction.

The White House and Republicans have negotiated almost $4 trillion in deficit savings in the past three years. But little of that has come out of benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and the Republican proposals seemed an attempt to open up that part of the budget to scrutiny.

Obama has proposed raising the cost of Medicare for better-off seniors, a $50 billion item over a decade. He has also backed higher fees under TRICARE, which provides health care for nearly 10 million active-duty and retired military personnel, retirees, reservists and their families, as well as increases in the cost of retirement benefits for federal workers.

After four years of trillion-dollar deficits, the 2013 federal budget shortfall is expected to register below $700 billion, but Republicans say more cuts are essential. At the same time, the nation’s debt is rising inexorably — the reason for the effort to raise borrowing limit to cover it. The debt was $10.6 trillion when Obama took office during the worst recession in decades, and has grown by $6.1 trillion in the years since.

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