The Washington Times - October 18, 2011, 03:32PM

The director of Medicare and Medicaid said he is staying out of supercommittee discussions, even though the expensive entitlement programs are unlikely to emerge unscathed in a final deficit-reduction plan.

“My understanding is the administration is working closely with the supercommittee, trying to help them put together their analysis,” Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told reporters on Tuesday. “So my contact was through the administration. It’s a very complex process, and I think someone should be coordinating.”


Wringing savings out of health care, the largest slice of federal spending, is the most obvious way for the bipartisan 12-member panel to accomplish its assignment of finding $1.2 trillion in cuts or revenue. Lawmakers agreed on the committee last summer as a way to resolve gridlock over raising the debt ceiling.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has urged the committee to focus on health care and stay away from the defense spending — the second-largest drain on the federal budget.

As the panel weighs finding savings in health care versus defense — or some combination — parties with interest on both sides anxiously await the final plan, which is due by Thanksgiving.

Last Friday, legislators took aim at both budget giants when House and Senate committees sent their recommendations to the panel. Republicans on the Senate Committee on Finance want to raise the retirement age and make current retirees pay more in deductibles and copayments.

In a bipartisan recommendation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, members suggested extending a current freeze on the salaries of federal civilian workers.

And leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee asked the panel to consider scaling back military pensions and making military members pay more for their health care.