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Obama faces heat from the left over Social Security

July 07, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli
(Bradley C Bower, AP/File )

The political left is steaming amid reports that President Obama is offering changes to Social Security and Medicare as part of a grand compromise to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

A series of statements from liberal groups Thursday came as the president acknowledged that "there is going to be pain involved politically on all sides" as negotiators try to hammer out a deal by Aug. 2.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said in a statement that he was "disturbed that the president is considering cuts in Social Security." He quoted Obama from the 2008 campaign, when he said that John McCain's campaign suggested cutting cost-of-living adjustments or raising the retirement age and then proclaimed that he "will not do either."

"The American people expect the president to keep his word," Sanders said.

Moveon.org released a survey of its members that found that 76% would be less likely to donate or volunteer for Obama's reelection effort if he cut Social Security.

"MoveOn members, who worked tirelessly to elect the president, could not be more clear: Balancing the budget by cutting Social Security or Medicare benefits is just plain wrong," Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, said.

"Cutting Social Security to reduce the national debt is like attacking Iraq to get Osama Bin Laden -- the two things are not related," said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America, a group founded by former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney sought to quell the revolt among Obama's base, dismissing reports that he was open to reforming Social Security as old news.

"When you talk about deficit reduction, dealing with the issues that have been before us in these negotiations for these many weeks, Social Security is not a factor. But it also remains true, as he made clear in the State of the Union, that he is willing to, and thinks it's important, to talk about the long-term strength of Social Security," Carney told reporters Thursday.

Even AARP, a nonpartisan organization of American seniors, said it is also "strongly opposed to any deficit reduction proposal that makes harmful cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits."

But other groups applauded the discussion of entitlement programs as lawmakers work toward a potentially significant deficit reduction plan.

Alice Rivlin, a former Office of Management and Budget director under President Clinton and a member of Obama's bipartisan debt commission, said in a joint statement with former Republican Sen. Pete Domenici that "without fundamental reform in revenues and entitlements, along with elimination of redundant programs, we will fail in our efforts at future fiscal responsibility."

Third Way, a moderate Democratic group, added that "postponing reform indefinitely is not an option, and to delay is not progressive."

"Some on the left will attack the president for putting Social Security and Medicare fixes on the table, but without action these programs will eventually crowd out our ability to invest in America’s future and force us to default on our promise to provide for tomorrow’s seniors," said Jonathan Cowan, the group's president.

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