Liberals pan benefit cuts in Obama plan

Liberals on and off Capitol Hill are hammering President Obama's proposal to scale back Medicare and Medicaid benefits as part of his newly released strategy to cut deficit spending.

While the liberals are praising many elements of the president's plan – particularly the tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans – they're already vowing to fight provisions to push additional costs on seniors and other beneficiaries of the nation's popular healthcare entitlements.

"While we support cutting waste, fraud and abuse, we reject any proposal that cuts benefits in Medicare or Medicaid," Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.

"We reject false Republican assertions that the solution to our deficit is deep cuts to programs that millions of Americans rely on, and we would hope President Obama would as well."

Families USA, a liberal-leaning health policy group, sounded a similar note Monday, warning that proposed changes to Medicaid "shifts the burden to states and ultimately onto the shoulders of seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income families who depend on the program as their lifeline."

"We will oppose those proposed cutbacks," Ron Pollack, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "The proposed Medicaid cuts, such as the reduced federal matching dollars to the states, make little sense."

Unveiled Monday, Obama's sweeping plan to create jobs and control deficit spending includes $248 billion in Medicare reductions and $73 billion in cuts to Medicaid and other health programs. Among the changes, Obama has proposed to hike premium costs for wealthier seniors enrolled in Medicare's prescription drug program, and increase the deductible for seniors receiving physician services under Medicare.

From the White House Rose Garden Monday morning, Obama said the changes are necessary to make the entitlements sustainable and ensure they're around for the benefit of future generations. He also drew a sharp distinction between his "modest adjustments" to Medicare and the shift to a privatized system promoted by Republicans.

"We will reform Medicare and Medicaid," Obama said, "but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment that this country has kept for generations."

Democratic leaders hailed the proposal, saying the combination of tax hikes on the wealthy and entitlement reform represents a balanced approach to the nation's fiscal problems.

"By calling for reforms that will ensure that all Americans contribute their fair share, and by strengthening Medicare, the President is ensuring that we aren’t balancing our budget on the backs of the middle class and seniors," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) said in a statement.

Still, a number of liberals are wary that Obama's entitlement cuts go too far to accommodate conservatives at the expense of the middle class. Some are hinging their support for the package on the exclusion of those benefit cuts.

"To be clear, we would fight any deal that cuts Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits," Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. "But if those are taken off the table and the president advocates to tax the rich and invest in jobs, he will have a lot of support."