Sanders to Obama: Don't Touch Social Security
Sen. Bernie Sanders at a markup meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, 03/21/13. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
05 April 13
ndependent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of Congress's most liberal members, is warning President Barack Obama not to "go back on his word" by offering to cut Social Security spending to reduce the deficit.
"Millions of working people, seniors, disabled veterans, those who have lost a loved one in combat, and women will be extremely disappointed if President Obama caves into the long standing Republican effort to cut Social Security and benefits for disabled veterans and their survivors through a so-called chained CPI," he said in a statement.
Sanders has been waging a campaign opposing the use of chained CPI, which would mean lower annual cost-of-living increases for Social Security benefits and veterans, and reduce help to the poor. Making the change would cut federal spending by roughly $130 billion over 10 years. But it would also adjust how taxes are calculated, generating about $100 billion in new revenue over the same period.
Obama will include it in his budget, to be unveiled April 10. Federal budgets are not like family budgets - they're non-binding spending roadmaps that serve chiefly as statements of political priorities and punching bags for political opponents. Even if Obama's budget passes both Houses (it won't), and he signs it into law, it's unlikely to have much impact on how Congress decides to spend federal dollars.
That's not to say that it's a wholly useless bit of theater. Washington has been at war over how best to reduce deficits and rein in the country's galloping debt. The budget says, in effect, what Obama might be willing to do to achieve those goals, which in turn puts pressure on congressional Democrats to fall in line.
Obama's support for that longstanding Republican wish-list item is not really a surprise. It's been a part of each of his "grand bargain" offers to the GOP for cutting the deficit. White House press secretary Jay Carney had said in his April 1 daily briefing that the proposal "remains on the table."
But Sanders, who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, recalled that candidate Obama promised Americans in 2008 that he would not cut Social Security.
"Having him go back on his word will only add to the rampant political cynicism that our country is experiencing today," the senator said.
How far would Sanders be willing to go to block chained CPI? His statement did not say, but in December 2010 Sanders won a lot of attention and liberal admiration for an 8.5-hour filibuster (quickly dubbed FiliBernie) against Obama's tax deal with Republicans.
"If Obama is serious about dealing with our deficit he would not cut Social Security," Sanders said. "Instead, he would support legislation that ends the absurdity of one out of four profitable corporations paying nothing in federal income taxes."
The lawmaker added, "He would also help us close the offshore tax haven loopholes that enable large corporations and the wealthy to avoid paying $100 billion a year in federal taxes."
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