With just over four weeks left for Congress to strike a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, the tug-of-war between spending cuts and revenue increases is accelerating. While some Republicans have signaled flexibility on revenue and some Democrats have indicated a broad willingness to look for savings in entitlement programs, most Democrats agree: Social Security is off the table.
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that Social Security was not going to be negotiable in the budget talks, he had a number of Democrats behind him.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) called social security “an absolute nonstarter” this week. “Social Security has not contributed to the debt and the deficits,” she added.
It’s an opinion shared by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL). Durbin said that “Social Security doesn’t add one penny to the deficit” and “we should treat it as a separate challenge,” during a Morning Joe appearance Tuesday. And Congressman Elijah Cummings said Social Security “should be set on the side” in a Tuesday interview on Andrea Mitchell Reports.
Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has formed the Defend Social Security Caucus with more than a dozen other Democratic senators, not only to guard against cuts advocated by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, but also against changes recommended by President Obama’s Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission, including increasing the retirement age for full benefits from 67 to 69.
Emboldened by a general election victory and retaining Senate leadership, Democrats are less willing to make cuts to entitlement programs than in previous attempts to reach a fiscal compromise.
Yet, former senator and co-chair of the president’s 2010 debt commission Alan Simpson said on Wednesday that Obama is still talking about entitlement reform. “He will give something in that area as long as he can hammer those guys over $250,000 and make them pay more taxes,” Simpsons said, referring to Obama’s campaign promise to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans.
Democrats may be hoping to hold off until 2013 to reform entitlement programs as part of a two-step negotiation process that, along with overhauling the tax code, could address the nation's growing deficit after an immediate set of cuts have been put in place by the December 31 deadline. If Congress fails to meet that deadline, automatic tax increases and cuts to defense and domestic spending will take effect.