WASHINGTON — A coalition of prominent Democrats, including many from New England, slammed President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget blueprint Wednesday for its proposed changes to the Social Security payment formula and Medicare, opening a widening rift between the president and members of his own party.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said she was shocked by Obama’s proposal to recalculate the cost of living adjustment for Social Security beneficiaries by linking it to a different version of the Consumer Price Index, known as the “chained CPI.”
The switch would mean the growth of benefits would slow and no longer keep pace with the current measure of price increases on such necessities such as food and health care.
“In short, ‘chained CPI’ is just a fancy way to say ‘cut benefits for seniors, the permanently disabled, and orphans,’” Warren fired off in an e-mail to supporters. She related the experience of her brother, David Herring, a military veteran and former small business owner who lives on monthly Social Security checks of $1,100. “Our Social Security system is critical to protecting middle-class families,’’ she wrote, “and we cannot allow it to be dismantled inch by inch.”
Obama’s proposal to rein back on so-called entitlement programs in exchange for raising taxes on corporations and the biggest earners is unpopular with large segments of both parties. GOP leaders, while calling for tempering the cost of social programs, have indicated they would not support further tax increases to get them.
But it was the uncharacteristic criticism from his own party Wednesday that was often loudest.
Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts called “chained CPI” an abbreviation for “Cutting People’s Income, a wrong-headed change that would go back on the promise we make to our senior citizens.”
“Tea Party Republicans may have pushed the president into many of these difficult decisions, but it still does not make this budget right nor fair, especially for those Americans who need help the most,” Markey said.
Representative Stephen Lynch, who is running against Markey for Senate, said that if elected, he promises to filibuster in the Senate to prevent any cuts to Social Security.
“I respect and admire President Obama, but I feel that the negotiations over taxes with the Republicans have forced him into a bad deal and he is going down the wrong road on chained CPI,” Lynch said. “I would gladly take to the Senate floor in defense of our seniors.”
Some observers expressed surprise at the extent of the rift between Democrats and the White House over the Social Security and Medicare proposals.
“I have never really seen anything like this,” said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate majority leader Harry Reid and now a Democratic strategist. “The opposition is pretty widespread and somewhat fierce.”
In making good on his promise to slash the deficit, caused partly by rising entitlement costs, Obama has taken a risk he has acknowledged in his quest to exact a compromise on taxes from Republicans.
At his Rose Garden press conference Wednesday, Obama said that the proposed changes in Social Security and Medicare — which he had offered privately to House Speaker John Boehner in December in failed budget talks — are not “optimal” but that “I’m willing to accept them as part of a compromise — if, and only if, they contain protections for the most vulnerable Americans.”
“The rising cost of caring for an aging generation is the single biggest driver of our long-term deficits,” Obama said. He has also proposed further reductions to some Medicare providers, a move that has upset hospital executives.
The Medicare cuts include reducing special payments to teaching hospitals that help them maintain the newest and most advanced services and equipment to train physicians, such as 24-hour trauma and burn units. In addition, wealthier seniors would be asked to contribute more, and beneficiaries would pay a surcharge for supplemental coverage that helps with copays associated with doctor visits, said the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare.
Obama, who planned to have dinner with select Senate Republicans Wednesday evening, emphasized that any changes in entitlement programs must go hand-in-hand with reforming the tax code to make the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations pay more.
“These measures will only become law if congressional Republicans agree to meet me in the middle by eliminating special tax breaks and loopholes so millionaires and billionaires do their fair share to cut the deficit,” Obama wrote in his budget message. “I am willing to make tough choices that may not be popular within my own party, because there can be no sacred cows for either party.”Continued...