Durbin warns Gang of Six deficit plan could produce Social Security cuts

Lawmakers shouldn't be so quick to rule out changes or cuts to Social Security, a top Senate Democrat participating in bipartisan Gang of Six talks says in a new interview.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the majority whip who's negotiating with two other Democrats and three Republicans on a major deficit-reduction plan, broke from more liberal members of his party, who want to safeguard Social Security from any changes.

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Durbin said he wouldn't be signing on to a "Sense of the Senate" resolution by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a liberal who caucuses with Democrats, saying that benefits should not be cut. And he warned that revisions to the program, such as means-testing benefits for wealthier Americans, could be among the changes suggested by the negotiators.

"If we deal with it today, it's an easier solution than waiting. I think we ought to deal with it. Many of my colleagues disagree, [and would] put it off to another day," Durbin said of Social Security in a video interview with ABC News posted Tuesday. "But from my point of view, leaving it out makes it easier politically — including it, I think, meets an obligation, which we have to senior citizens."

But any changes suggested by the Gang of Six — which consists of Durbin, along with Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) — could meet stiff resistance from other Democrats, a possibility Durbin acknowledged.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been vociferously opposed to any changes to Social Security, going so far as to say that he'd examine Social Security only 20 years from now (by which point he'd presumably be gone from Congress). That's when Social Security is expected to face the worst of its financial crisis.

The resolution by Sanders is intended to underscore liberal fears that Social Security would be neutered by any comprehensive plan to address long-term debt, but Durbin said that resolution goes "too far" and would constrain lawmakers too much in their ability to make changes to the program.

Nonetheless, Durbin suggested that his colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle are beginning to see the light when it comes to deficits and debt, though not without some reluctance.

"Many of my friends on the left — and they are my friends; these are my roots, politically — are going through the stages of grief. Denial, anger, frustration, sadness, resignation," he said. "Because they understand that borrowing 40 cents for every dollar you spend, whether it's for a missile or food stamps, is just unsustainable."

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