Democratic lawmakers have made clear they will oppose any changes to Social Security. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters that he is open to a fiscal-cliff deal but that “we are not going to mess with Social Security.”
Obama’s 2013 budget would reduce spending on health-care programs by $360 billion over a decade, in part by reducing payments to drug companies. Obama has also proposed increasing premiums for some retirees starting in 2017.
“There’s a lot of mobilization going on to try to prevent any cuts in social insurance benefits,” said Larry Mishel, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “I’m hoping they don’t go back to what they were offering up in 2011.”
Jared Bernstein, a former White House economic adviser with close ties to liberals, said revisions to entitlements that strengthen the programs would be acceptable if the poorest people were not harmed.
“It’s reasonable to put the entitlements on the table but in such a way that protects economically vulnerable people who depend on them — which is a much larger group than you might think,” he said. Bernstein noted that the median income of a Medicare beneficiary is $22,000 per year.
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, said liberals understand the need to slow Medicare spending but want to do it carefully.
“But we have to be really mindful of where those savings come from and whether they’re coming out of the pockets of seniors and whether they’re the result of savings in the health-care system,” Tanden said. “Those are two different things, and one progressives can agree with, and one is extremely difficult.”
Other liberals say they will fight against any entitlement beneficiary cuts. The AFL-CIO kept its field organizers active for a week after the election to lobby lawmakers against entitlement cuts, while MoveOn.org is using its e-mail list of 7 million people to mobilize.
“We will give the president and his allies in Congress all the support and cover in the world in the fight for no more tax cuts for the rich. That includes, in particular, supporting the president’s position that it’s better to negotiate past December 31st than do a deal that’s bad for the country,” said a top labor official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. “On the other hand, the answer for those who want to cut social insurance benefits in an economic crisis and increase economic insecurity is, ‘Hell, no.’ ”