Sayeth the Wall Street Journal:
MEANS-TESTING GAINS in both parties as long-term entitlement fix.
Republican Sen. Ensign of Nevada pushes plan to charge affluent beneficiaries more for Medicare prescription-drug coverage. "It makes no sense for Bill Gates's father to have his prescription drugs paid for by a schoolteacher or a firefighter or a police officer," the senator says.
Though he hasn't yet attracted majority support -- much less the 60 votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster -- his approach mirrors a presidential campaign push by Democrats Obama and Edwards on Social Security. They would bolster solvency by taxing the wealthiest more, while exempting those with incomes of between $97,000 and $200,000.
It is very uncommon to refer to increases in the income tax--which is essentially what Obama favors--as means testing.
Personally, I think means testing is long overdue, but by itself, it won't do that much to solve the problem. A super-agressive tax increase might put Social Security on an actuarially sound basis for years to come, but if you want to concentrate them on very wealthy families, as Democrats do, you're talking increases in the ugly area of the Laffer Curve just to fix one old-age program--leaving the bigger problem, Medicare, untouched.
Similarly, means-testing Medicare is a fine idea, but the proposals generally involve bouncing only a very small cost reduction. Medicare is even less amenable to means-testing than Social Security, because the benefits aren't tied to income. You don't consume twice as many drugs just because you're rich*, so bouncing the relatively small number of rich people out of the programme produces a correspondingly small decrease in the bill.
*Well, unless you happen to live in certain parts of Florida, but even there, unnecessary surgeries and tests are more the done thing
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