Friday, March 25, 2011
With momentum building to rein in record budget deficits, Democrats are sharply divided over whether to tackle popular but increasingly expensive safety-net programs for the elderly, particularly Social Security.
A growing number of Democratic lawmakers say they are willing to consider controversial measures such as raising the retirement age and reducing benefits for wealthier seniors as part of a compromise with Republicans to cut spending on the programs and stabilize them for future generations.
But senior lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) are lining up against them, arguing that tampering with Social Security would harm the elderly — as well as the political fortunes of Democrats hoping to maintain control of the White House and the Senate in 2012.
The dispute, long simmering behind the scenes, is poised to erupt into public view. Reid has scheduled a rally Monday on Capitol Hill to show “support for Social Security and opposition to cuts in benefits,” according to an e-mail sent to liberal activists. And House Democrats this week signaled their intention to use Social Security as a cudgel in next year’s elections by launching an ad campaign accusing 10 GOP lawmakers in swing districts of plotting to cut the program.
Meanwhile, Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank, plans to release a memo Friday arguing that the deficit has emerged as an uncommonly powerful political issue and that 2012 voters will reward the party that takes bold action to restrain government spending — including overhauling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.