With President Obama seeking a deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” liberal groups that campaigned aggressively for his reelection are mobilizing to oppose concessions they fear he could make on Medicare and Social Security.
Leaders of the nation’s labor unions and other liberal groups are planning Tuesday to press Obama at the White House to reject the kind of cuts in Medicare and Social Security that he has previously offered to make. On Thursday, left-leaning lawmakers and seniors groups plan to rally on Capitol Hill against any changes to entitlements.
The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe explains the buzz word that everyone has been using to identify the financial changes looming at the end of the fiscal year.
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Republicans are demanding entitlement changes as part of any deal to reduce the federal deficit. Top GOP lawmakers have said they could agree to raise fresh tax revenue — taking a step closer to the Democratic position that the wealthy pay more — but only if the White House accepts the type of entitlement changes that many liberals abhor.
During debt negotiations with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in summer 2011, Obama tentatively agreed to increase Medicare premiums and later boost the eligibility age for the program from 65 to 67. He also was willing to modestly reduce Social Security payments by using a less-generous formula for making cost-of-living increases. After those talks collapsed, Obama did not include similar proposals in his debt-reduction plan released last fall.
Now, with negotiations resuming, Obama has not made clear precisely how far he would go on entitlements. But people close to the White House say officials believe the election strengthened their hand and reduced the need to make concessions. The extent of any entitlement changes may depend on how much new tax revenue Republicans are willing to accept.
In the negotiations, Obama may have to decide whether he is willing to break with his liberal allies in pursuit of a bipartisan agreement aimed at avoiding the year-end fiscal cliff — $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that many economists say could plunge the nation into recession.
“We will make it very clear we will not be supportive of cuts to Medicare and Social Security,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders (Vt.), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “It would be a huge shock and disappointment if the president forgot the reality that he just won a major victory.”
The White House decision to invite labor and other liberal leaders to a meeting comes as the debate over the fiscal cliff is escalating. On Wednesday, Obama is set to meet with business leaders who support a deal that increases taxes on the wealthy, and on Friday he will open discussions with congressional leaders in a meeting at the White House. High-level talks are likely to intensify after Thanksgiving.
The White House has suggested that if the talks do not progress as Obama wants, he may barnstorm around the country to rally the public behind his position.
Much of the public dispute over the fiscal cliff has centered on the president’s demand that taxes rise for the wealthy. But entitlements are an essential element of the discussion because they are the main drivers of the nation’s borrowing problem over the years to come.