Social Security still on Gang of Six table, Warner says

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Gang of Six budget negotiators, said Sunday on “Face the Nation” that tackling Social Security's solvency remains on the table for the group.

The Gang of Six is attempting to put the December recommendations of the bipartisan fiscal commission into law. Social Security does not contribute to deficit spending since it draws benefits from a separate trust fund, but the fiscal commission sought to ward off a solvency crisis for Social Security after 2037 by raising the retirement age while reducing benefits. 

"Part of this is just math," Warner explained, noting that the ratio of retirees to working-age Americans paying into the Social Security system is changing dramatically.

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Including Social Security in the Gang of Six package appears to be a concession by Democrats made in exchange for agreement to raise some revenue by Republicans. But liberals in the Senate and House have made clear they will not stand for any cuts to benefits.

The 2012 budget passed by the House on Friday does not include reforms for Social Security. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) instead called for a trigger in the budget whereby the president and Congress would have to propose solutions once the Board of Trustees certifies the program is in trouble. Presidet Obama in his 2012 budget and in a speech last week did not lay out plans to reform Social Security.

Warner said the Gang is “very close” to an agreement that includes spending cuts and tax increases.

“We are going to make everybody mad with our approach,” he said.

Warner made clear that he is opposed to the House Republican 2012 budget's reliance on cuts to Medicare — he called it a “massive transfer of responsibility onto our seniors” — but he did not say how the Gang of Six will approach the massive entitlement program.

Warner said that last week's deficit speech by President Obama “laid out his vision, in real stark contrast” to the Ryan plan.

He said that he does not want the past week's speech and reaction by Republicans to distract both sides from compromise.

“What I hope is that this doesn't devolve into Democrats versus Republicans,” he said, noting that that led to an eleventh-hour fight over 2011 spending that he found embarrassing.

There are three Republicans on the Gang of Six: Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Mike Crapo (Idaho); and three Democrats: Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Warner.