Biden sets tone in fight against Medicare

President Biden introduced a nearly $7 trillion budget on Thursday with plans to tax the ultra-rich to deal with a funding crisis with Medicare. Nearly 60 million seniors in the United States rely on Medicare for their health insurance.

  • Plus, a breakthrough year for the Oscars.
  • And, spring flowers are appearing early all over America.

Guests: Caitlin Owens of Axios, Hans Nichols and Tim Baysinger.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Ben O’Brien. The music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can send questions, comments, and story ideas to Niala in text or voice memo form at 202-918-4893.

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Transcription

NIALA: Hello! Welcome to Axios today!

Today is Friday March 10.

I am Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re tracking: a breakthrough year for the Oscars. In addition, spring flowers appear early throughout America. But first: President Biden is setting the tone for the fight for the future of Medicare. It’s today’s One Big Thing.

Biden sets tone in fight against Medicare

NIALA: President Biden yesterday introduced a nearly $7 trillion budget with plans to tax the ultra rich to deal with a funding crisis with Medicare. Nearly 60 million seniors in the United States rely on Medicare for their health insurance.

Axios White House reporter Hans Nichols and senior political reporter Caitlin Owens are here for our Friday state of play to dig deeper into the president’s plans for Medicare and what Republicans think about it all. Hi Hans. Hello, Caitlin.

CAITLIN OWENS: Hey, go.

HANS NICHOLS: Hello.

NIALA: Hans. Before we get to Medicare, what’s the budget headline here? What does everyone need to know?

HANS: They must know that this is a political document. It’s always like that. That seems more the case this year because Republicans and the White House are clashing over the debt ceiling, and so Biden wants to establish himself firmly in the camp of a deficit cutter, someone who cares. of the deficit, but he also wants to tell his progressive base that he is for their priorities.

And that’s why you have this big number, you know, $6.8 trillion. I just want to say trillion. This is a big increase from where we were before the Covid era. Now a lot of that spending is on defence, but there’s a lot of it on the national side as well. And of course the biggest part is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid probably won’t be affected. But again, this is a president positioning himself for a big fight with the Republicans. There is no way this budget will pass through Congress. So it’s largely a matter of positioning.

NIALA: So let’s talk about positioning on health insurance. Can you catch up on the debate before this Biden proposal?

HANS: So Biden smartly, if you listen to his allies, and even some Republicans will recognize that, convinced Republican leaders to stand up and say Medicare won’t be cut and Social Security won’t be cut during the speech on the state of the Union.

He still likes to go to the well and blame the Republicans. He has a little caveat on that saying Republicans in MAGA want to cut Medicare and Social Security. and this is how the debate is articulated. Now he’s proposing this, this surtax, and I think Caitlin can explain it better than I, but a surtax on the wealthiest Americans to ensure that Medicare remains solvent for another 25 years.

CAITLIN: Yeah, the money comes into the program through taxes and then it’s paid out of the program. And so basically what happens, you know, analysts predict how long it will take until what comes in isn’t enough to pay off and compensate for what comes out. So that projection depends on what we’re going to spend over the next few years and, you know, how the economy evolves. So what would likely happen is that there would be widespread payment reductions for Medicare providers, which in turn could affect patients. So basically this big fight is about, you know, watching this impending insolvency. How can we make the two sides of the ledger add up here?

NIALA: How does President Biden propose to solve this problem?

CAITLIN: So there’s really only three ways to do this. One of them is to raise taxes. The other two relate to the reduction of expenditure. The first option is to reduce the benefits you pay to seniors. And then the second option is to reduce what the program pays to health care providers and health care insurers.

Biden chooses both to raise taxes, which he does through taxes on high earners. and reduce payments to, in this case, it’s actually the pharmaceutical industry. The irony here is that he technically offers a Medicare cut in his proposal. It’s just to cut the pharmaceutical industry.

NIALA: How much does Medicare represent in this overall budget?

CAITLIN: Medicare and Social Security are two of the biggest expenses that the United States, uh, has every year. And so that’s the problem the Republicans have is that they’ve said they want to cut spending. They said they wanted to make a budget that balances out over 10 years, which would require huge spending cuts. You can’t balance a budget over 10 years without touching Medicare, Social Security, and defense spending without cutting almost every other domestic spending.

You know, we talked about those three buckets, right? Where you can raise taxes, you can cut benefits or cut payments to providers, insurers and drug companies. I would not exclude that the Republicans draw from this third bucket.

NIALA: Hans, what are you watching then?

HANS: I want to see whether or not the Republicans present their own budget and what’s in it. I mean, Caitlin is kind of raising this big elephant in the room, which is that if you want to reduce deficit spending, you have to tackle rights, uh, and have some kind of rights reform.

The person who knows this probably better than anyone in Washington right now is Joe Biden, he led the last big debt ceiling cut, the spending showdown. And he was in the room trying to negotiate with John Boehner and they were looking at something at the time that they called a big deal, which would have Republican concessions on taxes and maybe a raise in taxes and Democratic concessions on lowering the overall trajectory of entitlement spending. You know, the policy on this is not really complicated. Everyone wants to be for seniors, everyone wants to be for Medicare spending. Everyone wants to get out of Social Security benefits, but it’s getting expensive.

NIALA: Hans Nichols covers the Biden administration for Axios. Caitlin Owens is a senior political reporter. Caitlin, Hans, thank you very much.

CAITLIN: Thank you.

HANS: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment: the Oscars fight for relevance.

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A breakthrough year for the Oscars

NIALA: Welcome to Axios today. I am Niala Boodhoo.

This Sunday is the 95th Annual Academy Awards and the Oscars are fighting for viewership, including mine. Axios’ Tim Baysinger covered the story.

Tim, where are we with people watching the Oscars and how important is this show still?

TIM BAYSINGER: A lot of the criticism of the Oscars recently has been that the really popular movies aren’t the ones that get nominated for the big awards. Well, this year you have “Top Gun: Maverick” for Best Picture, “Avatar: The Way of Water” for Best Picture, those are the two highest-grossing movies of 2022. Avatar, one of the movies most profitable of all time. So he has a lot of assets that he hasn’t really had in recent years. There’s also, you know, people who will want to see if there’s another crazy event like what happened last year when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock? So, I think if it ever really comes back in a meaningful way in terms of viewership, culturally, that will be the year.

NIALA: Are the Oscars a huge source of revenue for networks like ABC that host them?

Tim: Yes. Even with its dwindling viewership, there will still be, you know, advertisers spending north of $2 million on a 30-second ad spot. So for ABC, it’s still very important financially, and they’ve had it since the ’70s and they’ve had it until 2028 on their latest TV deals. They are therefore still very invested in the series.

NIALA: So, Tim, given advertising revenue and how lucrative it is for a TV channel, does it matter if viewership drops?

TIM: If it continues to go down, eventually it’s going to matter because what you’re seeing happening in the awards industry is that a lot of awards shows that have been on television for decades now go to the streaming. Netflix just won the SAG Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards that aired for CBS for about 25 years are now on Amazon.

I think that’s the question we’re all asking, were those awards shows once really big things on TV. The way the Super Bowl was, I mean it was called for many years, the Entertainment Super Bowl, the Hollywood Super Bowl. And now it’s fair to wonder if it’s going to be some kind of streaming now? And if it does, I mean, it’s not going to get the same number of viewers that a TV show would get.

NIALA: Tim Baysinger is a reporter for Axios. Thanks Tim.

Tim: Thank you very much.

Spring flowers appear early all over America

NIALA: One last title before leaving…

A warm winter in much of the United States leads to a startling sight: spring flowers blooming in early March. From here to DC where the cherry blossoms are feeling the effects of climate change…to Columbus, Ohio; Houston, Texas and beyond… Local Axios reporters across the country are seeing signs of an early spring.

Early budding flowers and trees are a visual reminder that even though extreme storms grab the headlines, our winters are getting warmer – in fact, as Axios’ Andrew Freedman reports, winter is the the fastest– warming season for much of the continental United States

Is the end of winter different where You are? Talk to us – you can send a voice message to 202-918-4893.

NIALA: And that suits us this week. Axios Today is produced by Fonda Mwangi, Naomi Shavin and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our senior sound engineer is Alex Sugiura, and Ben O’Brien is also mixing the show. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer.

The editor of Axios is Sara Kehaulani Goo and the editor is Aja Whitaker-Moore. Special thanks, as always, to Axios co-founder, Mike Allen.

I am Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you here on Monday.

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