Rumored details of President Obama's proposed budget sparked a firestorm among progressives on Friday. The 2013 budget, expected to be released next week, is said to include phased-in cuts to Social Security benefits.
“You can’t call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security benefit cuts,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Stephanie Taylor said in a widely circulated statement. “The president is proposing to steal thousands of dollars from grandparents and veterans by cutting cost-of-living adjustments, and any congressional Democrat who votes for such a plan should be ready for a primary challenge."
The cuts would come in the form of a policy called chained CPI, which was originally proposed by the Republican Party and later adopted by the White House. Chained CPI would reduce the rate at which Social Security benefits increase, effectively cutting the program in the long term.
Progressive members of Congress emphatically rejected the possibility of passing a budget with chained CPI.
"In 2008, candidate Barack Obama told the American people that he would not cut Social Security," said Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. in a statement. "Having him go back on his word will only add to the rampant political cynicism that our country is experiencing today."
"I support President Obama, but believe it is deeply misguided and harmful to cut Social Security benefits for seniors, veterans, and children already struggling to get by," said House Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison, D-Minn., in a Facebook post. "We should not try to lure Republicans with a policy that harms our seniors, particularly when they have been unwilling to take even a dime away from tax loopholes for millionaires and wealthy corporations."
Unions were also unhappy. In a Friday statement on the most recent jobs report, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka dismissed chained CPI advocacy "as more 'Washington speak.'"
President Obama's support for chained CPI is nothing new. The president included the policy in his proposed fiscal cliff bargain. Though some of the largest labor unions strongly opposed the policy at the time, they declined to withdraw their support for the deal.
In reaction to the president's latest rumored proposals, House Speaker John Boehner said that "modest" cuts to entitlements must not "be held hostage for more tax hikes." In February, multiple Republican strategists told the Washington Post's Ezra Klein that Obama would need to embrace chained CPI in order to strike a deal with the Republicans—even though, by that point, he already had. In other words, the president has yet to get credit for the concession from Republicans, while taking plenty of heat for it from his own party.