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Medicare cuts and other D.C. fairy tales: Obama's so-called 'savings' are pure political fantasy

David Gratzer
New York Daily News
December 3, 2009

It's that time of year again: Washington is talking about cuts to Medicare. President Obama's health-care reforms depend on them—to $400 billion worth over 10 years.

As a psychiatrist, I'll break the bad news gently: Medicare cuts are like Santa Claus and his flying reindeers—often talked about, never actually seen.

The federal government has long fought to control Medicare spending. Today's Medicare program costs taxpayers twice what it did 10 years ago. But whenever lawmakers from either party agree to savings, Congress reverses course, fearing cuts will anger voters on Election Day.

Congress reversed planned cuts in 1999. And 2005. And 2004. And 2006. In fact, since 1997, when members of both parties agreed to automatic cuts if spending rose faster than population and economic growth, the program has been cut just once, in 2002.

At one point, Congress voted to postpone a 10% cut in Medicare doctors' fees from December 2007 until mid-summer 2008. Just weeks later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attacked the rescheduled savings as "exactly the wrong medicine."

So come July 2008, despite massive deficit projections, Congress voted to abandon the planned savings altogether. President George Bush vetoed that decision—only to have Congress, both parties, override him.

Turns out, there are only two w

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