The Economic Club of New York is not the Friars Club. This is a serious crowd—folks like billionaire philanthropist-political activist David Koch, TIAA-CREF CEO Roger Ferguson, economist Glenn Hubbard, and business executive Patricia Russo. Not exactly Don Rickles, Billy Crystal, Martin Short, and Whoopi Goldberg.
So when House Speaker John Boehner came to New York last week to address this pinstriped gathering of about 800, it was hardly a laugh-fest. But Boehner, it turns out, isn’t all about debt ceilings, deficits, and crippled entitlement programs. He’s quick with a quip, and after a sobering speech, there was one moment when he got the room roaring .
During a Q&A session led by Observatory Group CEO Jane Hartley and Pete Peterson, the billionaire crusader against spendthrift behavior in Washington (and principal backer of The Fiscal Times) suggested to Boehner that the Medicare plan put forth by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan could drive up health-care costs—already at 20% of GDP—and threaten America’s competitiveness.
Peterson also noted that the Ryan plan would be more expensive for seniors.
“Pete, I love you to death,” Boehner said to the 84-year-old Peterson, “but I don’t think the taxpayer should pick up your Medicare premium. We’re broke, and for those with financial means, you can pick up your own premium.”
“Mr. Speaker,” Peterson jokingly shot back, “I’m beginning to take this personally.”
But Peterson wasn’t kidding when he said a short time later that he believes “an essential element of reform” is reducing entitlement benefits across the board for people of means.
Boehner didn’t respond directly to that notion.
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