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Obama rules out raising Medicare eligibility age to cut spending

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has ruled out raising the age that Americans become eligible for Medicare, the government health insurance program for seniors, as a way to reduce the government's deficit, a White House spokesman said on Monday.

Republicans in Congress, who have focused on cutting spending, have said they want to see the eligibility age raised to 67 from the current age of 65, but many Democrats have opposed the idea vehemently.

"The president's made clear that we don't believe that that's the right policy to take," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

The White House and Congress have been grappling with how to avoid a March 1 deadline when $85 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts are o take effect.

Obama has urged Congress to postpone the cuts by raising revenue from ending long-standing tax breaks for oil companies, private equity firms and corporate jet owners - steps that would help Congress "buy time" to come up with a budget.

He has said he is willing to include some reforms on Social Security, the government pension program, as part of a "big deal" with Republicans to reduce the deficit.

Those reforms would include slowing the rate of annual payment increases for Social Security by changing the calculation of inflation used to set the new payment.

But any change needs to be part of a larger plan that splits deficit reduction between spending cuts and revenue increases, Carney said.

"How do you explain to a senior that we're doing this, asking you to sacrifice, but we're not saying that corporate jet owners should lose their special tax incentive?" Carney said.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

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