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Obama's base sends a warning about Medicare, Social Security cuts

July 15, 2011|By Monique Garcia | Chicago Tribune
  • Jan Bees and other members of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee deliver petitions to President Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago.
Jan Bees and other members of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee… (David Banks / Associated…)

Reporting from Chicago — A group of liberal voters who said they volunteered and donated to President Obama's 2008 campaign are threatening to pull their support if he signs off on cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security during ongoing debt negotiations with Republicans.

About a dozen members from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee dropped off what they said were 200,000 petitions at Obama's downtown Chicago reelection headquarters Friday morning urging the president to protect the entitlement programs or lose donors and door-knockers who they argued were critical to his victory.

The group said the pledges represent $17 million in small donations and more than 2.6 million in volunteer hours during the 2008 campaign. Most of those who showed up at Prudential Plaza acknowledged they would still vote for Obama, but said they were hoping to send a message.

"It’s not a question of who they are going to support for president -- they are going to vote for Barack Obama -- it's a question of where their time and money is going to go," said Neil Sroka, spokesman for the group. "What this is about is about letting the president know how desperately we want to support his campaign, how much we want to be volunteering and being right in the foxhole again."

Donna Conroy, an information technology and communications freelancer from Chicago, said she volunteered for Obama in 2008 but is now "asking serious questions about how I conduct my life and who I align with."

"When I heard he was willing to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, he signaled to me that my future was bleak," Conroy said.

At a White House news conference Friday morning, Obama said such items as means testing for Medicare have been among the issues he's been considering in debt and deficit reduction talks, potentially creating higher premiums and co-payments for wealthier seniors. But he said unlike a House GOP plan to replace Medicare with a healthcare voucher for seniors, "you can save trillions of dollars" in entitlement programs "while maintaining the core integrity of the program."

An administration official said Obama was signaling only his "openness, as part of a potential big deal, to asking Medicare recipients over those high-income thresholds to pay modestly higher premiums."

"At no point did the administration express openness to raising premiums on Medicare beneficiaries below those income levels," the official said.

The PCCC delivered the petitions to Ann Marie Habershaw, chief operating officer of Obama's campaign.

"Americans elected the president in 2008 to take on the big challenges facing our country, and he’s engaged in an effort to do just that, promoting a balanced approach to reduce the deficit and promote economic growth that protects the middle class and seniors," a campaign spokesman said in a statement.

Michael A. Memoli of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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