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Exclusive: Advocates warn Obama not to back debt commission’s ‘radical’ cuts to Social Security

By Sahil Kapur
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 11:02 EDT
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WASHINGTON – A large coalition of pro-Social Security groups on Tuesday warned President Barack Obama against supporting cuts to the popular seniors program, as unconfirmed reports circulated that he may endorse his fiscal commission’s proposals to reduce benefits.

“It’s terrible policy and it’s terrible politics,” Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works — which represents roughly 300 groups who oppose benefit cuts to the safety net for seniors, including prominent names such as the AFL-CIO, NAACP, National Organization For Women and Economic Policy Institute — told Raw Story in an interview. “Social Security is self-financed and contributes nothing to the deficit.”

“If President Obama says the Bowles-Simpson proposal makes sense, people will interpret that as his position — and that becomes the left position, and you compromise from there,” Altman said, worrying that his hypothetical endorsement of the commission’s plan could be a starting point from which Republicans may seek to extract more concessions.

The report (PDF) last December by the White House-appointed commission — co-chaired by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson (WY) and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles — proposed three major changes to Social Security, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Increasing the retirement age in accordance with average life span, changing the benefit formula to cut payouts, and reducing cost-of-living adjustments based on inflation.

“It’s quite radical,” Altman said, fretting that lawmakers have seldom entertained the possibility of raising revenues to cover the shortfall. “The starting point shouldn’t be how much to cut it. The very fact that [Obama] has called this an entitlement question is an improper framing.”

The White House didn’t return a request for comment on whether Obama will support any or all of the Bowles-Simpson ideas in his major speech Wednesday, when he will counter the GOP deficit-reduction plan that cuts $6 trillion in spending and privatizes Medicare over a decade.

The Social Security Trust Fund has a surplus of $2.6 trillion and is expected to remain solvent in its current form until 2037, according to its 2010 trustees report. But the program’s payouts did exceed revenues for the first time last year, sparking a debate in Washington about the future of the seniors safety net.

Americans strongly oppose cuts to Social Security benefits despite their concerns about deficits, according to polls. Although House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) say cuts are off the table, some top Democrats have endorsed incrementally raising the retirement age, which most Republicans are in favor of.

 
 
 
 
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