Mar 10, 2023 - Podcasts

Biden sets the tone for the fight over Medicare

President Biden presented an almost $7 trillion budget on Thursday with plans to tax the ultra-rich to address a funding crisis with Medicare. Nearly 60 million senior citizens in the U.S. rely on Medicare for health insurance.

  • Plus, a make-or-break year for the Academy Awards.
  • And, spring flowers are popping up early all over America.

Guests: Axios' Caitlin Owens, 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. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, March 10th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following: a make-or-break year for the Academy Awards. Plus, spring flowers are popping up early all across America. But first: President Biden sets the tone for the fight over Medicare’s future. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

Biden sets the tone for the fight over Medicare

NIALA: President Biden presented an almost $7 trillion budget yesterday with plans to tax the ultra rich to address a funding crisis with Medicare. Nearly 60 million senior citizens in the U.S. rely on Medicare for health insurance.

Axios’ White House reporter Hans Nichols and senior policy reporter Caitlin Owens, are here for our Friday state of play to go deeper into the President's plans for Medicare and how Republicans feel about all of this. Hey Hans. Hi, Caitlin.


HANS NICHOLS: Good morning.

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

HANS: They need to know that this is a political document. It always is. It seems more so this year because both Republicans and the White House are squaring off over the debt ceiling, and so Biden wants to establish himself firmly in the camp of a deficit cutter, someone who's concerned about the deficit, but he also wants to tell his progressive base that he is for their priorities.

And so that's why you have this big headline number, you know, $6.8, .9 trillion. I just wanna say trillion. That is a big increase from where we were from the pre Covid era. Now, so a lot of that's defense spending, but he also has a lot on the domestic side. And then of course, the biggest portion is social security, Medicare, and Medicaid probably aren't gonna be touched. But again, this is a president positioning himself for a big fight with Republicans. There's no chance this budget will get through Congress. So this is a largely about positioning.

NIALA: So let's talk about positioning on Medicare. Can you catch us up on the debate prior to this Biden proposal?

HANS: So Biden cleverly, if you listen to his allies, and even some Republicans will acknowledge, convinced the Republican leaders to stand up and say that Medicare will not be cut and social security will not be cut during the State of the Union address.

He still likes to go to the well and accuse Republicans. He has a little caveat on there saying, MAGA Republicans want to cut Medicare and social Security. and that's how the debate is framing up. Now, he's proposing this, this surcharge, and I think Caitlin can kind of explain it better than I can, but a surcharge on the wealthiest Americans to ensure that Medicare remains solvent for another 25 years.

CAITLIN: Yeah so, money comes into the program through taxes and then it gets paid out of the program. And so basically what's happening is, you know, analysts are projecting how long it will take for what is coming in to not be enough to pay and make up for what's coming out. So that projection depends on how much we spend in the next few years and you know, what the economy is doing. So,what would likely happen is there would be across the board payment cuts to Medicare providers, then that could affect patients, in turn. So basically this big fight is about, is like, you know, looking at this looming insolvency. How do we make both sides of the ledger add up here?

NIALA: How is President Biden proposing to fix this then?

CAITLIN: So there's really only three ways to do that. One of them is raising taxes. The second two have to do with decreasing spending. The first option is to cut benefits that you pay out to seniors. And then the second option is to cut what the program pays to healthcare providers and healthcare insurers.

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

NIALA: How much does Medicare represent as part of this overall budget?

CAITLIN: Medicare and Social Security are two of the biggest chunks of spending that the U.S., uh, has every single year. And so this is the problem that Republicans have is they have said that they wanna reduce spending. They have said that they want to make a budget that balances over 10 years, and that would require huge cuts in spending. You cannot balance a budget over 10 years without touching Medicare, social security, and defense spending without cutting almost all other domestic spending.

You know, we talked about those three buckets, right? Where you can raise taxes, you can cut benefits, or you can cut payments to providers, insurers, drug companies. I wouldn't rule out Republicans dipping into that third bucket.

NIALA: Hans, what are you watching for then?

HANS: I wanna see whether or not Republicans come forward with their own budget and what's in it. I mean, Caitlin's sort of raising this big elephant in the room, which is if you wanna reduce deficit spending, you have to tackle entitlement, uh, and have some sort of entitlement reform.

The person who knows that probably better than anyone in Washington right now is Joe Biden, he led the last big debt ceiling cutting, spending showdown. And he was in the room trying to negotiate with John Boehner and they looked at something at the time they called a grand bargain, which would have some Republican give on taxes and maybe an increase in taxes and some democratic give on lowering the overall trajectory of entitlement spending. You know, the politics on this aren't actually that complicated. Everyone wants to be for seniors, everyone wants to be for Medicare spending. Everyone wants to be for social security benefits going out, but it just gets expensive.

NIALA: Hans Nichols covers the Biden Administration for Axios. Caitlin Owens is a senior policy reporter. Caitlin, Hans, thanks so much.

CAITLIN: Thank you.

HANS: Thank you.

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


A make-or-break year for the Academy Awards

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

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

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

TIM BAYSINGER: A lot of the criticism of the Oscars recently has been that the really popular movies are not the ones that get nominated for the big awards. Well, this year you have “Top Gun: Maverick” up for Best Picture, “Avatar: The Way of Water” up for Best Picture, those were the two highest grossing movies of 2022. Avatar, one of the highest grossing movies ever. So it has a lot going for it that it really hasn't had in the last few years. Also it has, you know, people who will wanna see if there's another crazy event like what happened last year, when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock? So, I think that if it's ever gonna really come back meaningfully in terms of viewership, culturally, this is gonna be the year.

NIALA: Are the Oscars a huge revenue maker for networks like ABC that are hosting it?

TIM: Yes. Even with its falling audience, it still will get, you know, advertisers spending north of $2 million for a 30 second commercial spot. So for ABC, it's still very much financially very important, and they've had it since the 70s and they have it through 2028 on their latest TV deals. So they're still very much invested in the show.

NIALA: So, Tim, given the ad revenue and how lucrative it is for a television network, does it matter if viewership drops off?

TIM: If it keeps dropping off, it's eventually going to matter because what you're seeing happening in the award show industry is that a lot of award shows that aired on TV for decades are now moving to streaming. Netflix just picked up the SAG Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards that aired for CBS for like 25 years is now on Amazon.

I think that's the question we're all asking is, are these awards shows that used to be really big ticket TV items. The way of like the Super Bowl was, I mean it was called for many years, the Entertainment Super Bowl, Hollywood Super Bowl. And now it's fair to wonder if that's gonna be a streaming kind of thing now? And if it does, I mean, it's not gonna get the same viewership that a broadcast TV would get.

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

TIM: Thank you so much.

Spring flowers are popping up early all over America

NIALA: One last headline before we go…

A warm winter across much of the U.S. is leading to a surprising sight: spring flowers in bloom at the start of March. From here in D.C. where the cherry blossoms are feeling the effects of climate change… to Columbus, Ohio; Houston, Texas and beyond…Axios local reporters across the country are seeing signs of an early spring.

Flowers and trees budding early are a visual reminder that even as extreme storms make headlines, our winters are getting warmer – in fact as Axios’ Andrew Freedman reports, winter is the fastest-warming season for much of the continental U.S.

Does late winter look different where you are? Tell us about it – you can text a voice memo to 202-918-4893.

NIALA: And that does it for 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 also mixes the show. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer.

Axios’ editor in chief is Sara Kehaulani Goo and executive editor is Aja Whitaker-Moore. Special thanks as always to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

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

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