House Dems pressure fiscal commission against Social Security changes

More than half of the House Democratic caucus wrote President Obama on Monday, saying they will oppose any recommendations from his fiscal commission that privatizes or cuts Social Security. 

The large 136-member bloc, led by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), wrote that they would oppose any cut to Social Security benefits, any increase of the retirement age and any effort to privatize the popular entitlement program. 

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"If any of the [fiscal] commission’s recommendations cut or diminish Social Security in any way, we will stand firmly against them," they wrote. "We urge you to join us in protecting and strengthening Social Security rather than letting it fall victim to a misguided attempt to reduce budget deficits on the backs of working families."

The letter is another signal that the bipartisan fiscal commission's proposals to tamp down the growing federal budget deficit, expected to be released in December, could run into staunch opposition in Congress. 

The panel has already been under heavy pressure from lawmakers in both political parties who are worried that it will propose drastic spending cuts, changes to entitlement programs, or sizable tax increases. 

Concerns over Social Security spilled over in August, when the Republican co-chairman of the panel, former Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyo.), compared the program to a "milk cow with 310 million tits," which sparked calls for his resignation from liberal lawmakers and activist groups.

Democrats have made Social Security into a hot-button issue on the campaign trail, especially Grijalva, who faces an unexpectedly competitive reelection race. Democratic leaders, starting with Obama, have accused Republicans of wanting to privatize Social Security. Republicans have said the charge is an attempt to divert attention away from the struggling economy. 

No members of the Democratic leadership signed the letter. But some high-profile members did, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Citing the slowing economic recovery, the Democratic lawmakers said that benefits should remain in place for seniors whose private savings may have been diminished during the financial collapse of 2008.

"Cutting Social Security benefits beyond the already scheduled increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 would create even more needless hardship for millions of vulnerable Americans," they wrote. "This is especially true in the face of an economic downturn that has wiped out trillions of dollars that Americans were relying on for their retirement security and the increased dismantlement of the private and public pension systems."