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The sequester brings a lot of big, damaging cuts to government programs and services. The problem is, if Republicans get anything close to their way—and remember, it's Democrats they're bargaining with, so there's a good chance Republicans do get much of what they want—the solution could be as bad as the problem of sequestration. Social Security and Medicaid aren't sequestered. But cutting those programs has been on the Republican wish list for a long time, and will be one of their demands.
The question is how hard Democrats will fight to protect the programs that seniors rely on and that give non-seniors the promise of being able to retire without living in abject poverty.
"The president has made one of his bottom lines that significant revenues have to be on the table," said Chuck Loveless, the director of legislation for AFSCME, a major public services employees union. "If he sticks to his guns on that I'm not worried, but chained CPI is on his shortlist. We oppose that, and it is a significant cut to social security."
It should go without saying that if Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits, even at the insistence of Republicans, come 2014 and 2016, Republicans will wage campaign attacks against Democrats for having cut Social Security. But with Republicans so insistent, and a few Democrats wobbly on the issue, New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler says that "If you go in and decide to fix sequestration, how much longer can you exempt entitlements. It's difficult to do if you want to get bipartisan agreement."
This is the fight. Can Republicans protect tax subsidies for oil companies by cutting Social Security benefits for seniors? Are Democrats going to make that deal? If Americans don't want Social Security cut—and they don't, even if politicians are calling it "chained CPI" and pretending it's not really a cut—that needs to be crystal clear to Congress and the president.