WASHINGTON — President Obama’s re-election and Democratic gains in Congress were supposed to make it easier for the party to strike a deal with Republicans to resolve the year-end fiscal crisis by providing new leverage. But they could also make it harder as empowered Democrats, including some elected on liberal platforms, resist significant changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.The greatest indication that they're gaining steam comes from Sen. Dick Durbin, not known as a reliable ally in the fight to prevent benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare, who is signaling in a speech on Tuesday what might be growing consensus among Democrats to leave entitlements off the table in the fiscal
Two staunch liberals, Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said in a letter to Mr. Obama that he should “reject changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that would cut benefits, shift costs to states, alter the structure of these critical programs, or force vulnerable populations to bear the burden of deficit reduction.”
More than 40 House members, led by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, declare in a resolution that any deal on taxes and spending “should not cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits.”
“Progressives should be willing to talk about ways to ensure the long-term viability of Medicare and Medicaid but those conversations should not be part of a plan to avert the fiscal cliff,” Durbin says, according to excerpts provided by his office.For Durbin, one of a handful of Democrats on the Simpson/Bowles Catfood Commission to support the report of the chairs, that's encouraging movement—he's arguing against a grand bargain being shoehorned into this lame-duck debt and deficit fight. Considering Durbin's close relationship with President Obama, this is even more reassuring, at least for the short term. But winning this short-term battle against austerity would be the first step in winning the war.
The Illinois Democrat reiterates the view of many in his party that Social Security isn’t a driver of the nation’s deficit. And he insisted that current beneficiaries be protected from changes to any program.