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Rep. Paul Ryan left Social Security out of his budget (though the Republican-approved draconian cuts to Medicare would seriously erode Social Security benefits). President Obama's budget proposal didn't touch Social Security, despite the fact that his failed deficit commission recommended cuts.

But AARP, and it's "kinda, sorta" admission that they wouldn't fight cuts tooth and nail last week has put the program in the cross-hairs again, with an inexplicable assist (once again) from Sen. Dick Durbin.

AARP is still in damage control four days later, and its move angered the liberal base and prompted head-scratching among Democrats on Capitol Hill since the organization had effectively brought an issue — long considered the third rail of politics — back into the raging debate over budget cutting.

“I think they’re dead wrong on this issue, and I think many of the other senior groups feel the same way,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said the group’s position “surprised” her....

Splitting with some liberals in his party, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday that the AARP position “helps” the debate going forward.

“I have to underline the fact that it does not add to our deficit, but if we can make reasonable changes 25 years before we have a problem with Social Security, it will be much easier,” Durbin said in an interview with POLITICO in the Capitol on Tuesday. “I think they understand that if you make the right kind of changes, preserve your program, that’s in the best interest of seniors and their families.”

Here's the problem: the assumption that this Congress can make "reasonable changes." This Congress is going to have a massive fight on its hands just undoing the payroll tax holiday from last December's misguided Tax Deal, and getting Social Security revenues flowing at necessary levels. Increasing them to or lifting the payroll tax cap—the most reasonable and effective change to Social Security—is looking like a pipe dream. Republicans are hell-bent against allowing it to happen, and Dems seem to be haplessly pulled further and further to the right. Which puts Social Security right back in the budget mix.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), one of six negotiators in budget talks led by Vice President Joe Biden, said he’s noticed “a lot of back-and-forth” since reports surfaced last week.

“What we’ve said all along is that we need to look at the whole question of Social Security and that has to be on a separate track from the deficit talks because we’re not going to balance the budget or cut the deficits on the backs of seniors,” he said. “But we do know that we need to come together as Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan did to find a way to strengthen Social Security.”

Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill cut Social Security for future retirees already. That's not a model anyone should be trying to emulate.

Which AARP now seems to be recognizing, because they just sent out a press advisory demanding that Social Security not be included in the budget talks (via e-mail):

WASHINGTON – AARP CEO A. Barry Rand offered the following statement on possible debt and deficit reduction proposals that include the adoption of superlative or chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) that would impact Social Security and other benefits:

“Let me be clear—AARP will not accept any cuts of any kind to Social Security as part of a deal to pay the nation's bills, and specific proposals such as the chained CPI should not be considered as part of the debt ceiling or deficit reduction negotiations.

“Any discussion around proposals that would impact Social Security must only happen in the context of strengthening retirement security, not balancing the budget.  Throughout the debt ceiling debate, AARP is committed to fighting to protect Social Security for today’s seniors and strengthening it for future generations....

Let's hope they're not too late.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Wed Jun 22, 2011 at 04:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by Social Security Defenders.

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