Nervous liberals say: Get your grubby hands off Social Security

House Democrats worried that a bipartisan group of six senators is making progress toward putting the recommendations of President Obama’s debt commission into legislation delivered a message Thursday: Take Social Security out of the mix.

“Divorce this conversation about deficit reduction from Social Security and making it a better program!” Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraCalif. gov: 'We're not going to bring stupid lawsuits' over border wall Eye on 2018: Five special elections worth watching Blue states rush to block Trump’s emissions rollback MORE (D-Calif.) told a roomful of Social Security advocates on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

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Becerra, the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, served on the debt commission but voted against its recommendations. He said the senators’ attempts to include Social Security in their budget fix is the wrong way to go.

Becerra told the group that anyone who puts Social Security in the deficit conversation wants to get their “grubby hands” on the surplus in the Social Security trust fund to pay for other things. 

While Becerra said Social Security needs to be reformed in order to pay benefits after 2037, there is no crisis that means it has to be done now.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said “whatever we do for Social Security is not about reducing the deficit. It is about strengthening Social Security — the solvency of Social Security. Those are two separate, different questions.” 

“We are on the political high ground to defend Social Security every step of the way,” added Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who also served on the debt commission and said she was worried about how senators were approaching its report.

The debt commission recommended reforming Social Security even though it acknowledged that the program, unlike Medicare and Medicaid, is not driving up the national debt. 

A reason for that is Social Security is easier to deal with than the health programs, which can only be addressed by controlling wider healthcare costs.

Congressional Democrats and liberal think tanks view this week as a crucial time to influence the group of six before its bill is drafted.

Sen. Tom CoburnTom CoburnDon't be fooled: Carper and Norton don't fight for DC Coburn: Trump's tweets aren't presidential The road ahead for America’s highways MORE (R-Okla.), a member of the group, has said Social Security reform must be addressed in the package or it will be ignored.

Coburn, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Assistant Majority Leader Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings Gorsuch: I'm 'sorry' for ruling against autistic student MORE (D-Ill.) and Sens. Mike CrapoMike CrapoSenators war over Wall Street during hearing for Trump's SEC pick Overnight Finance: Biz groups endorse Trump's Labor pick | New CBO score coming before health bill vote | Lawmakers push back on public broadcasting cuts Senate Banking panel seeks proposals for economic growth MORE (R-Idaho), Mark WarnerMark WarnerSunday shows preview: Aftermath of failed healthcare bill Devin Nunes has jeopardized the oversight role of Congress Senators push Trump on defense deals with India MORE (D-Va.) and Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (R-Ga.) hope to produce a plan within weeks and are aiming to have a draft bill ready at least by the time the nation’s debt ceiling is reached this spring so it can be paired with that vote, sources have said.

The House Democrats’ message comes as White House Budget Director Jack LewJack LewOne year later, the Iran nuclear deal is a success by any measure Chinese President Xi says a trade war hurts the US and China Overnight Finance: Price puts stock trading law in spotlight | Lingering questions on Trump biz plan | Sanders, Education pick tangle over college costs MORE said the administration believes the conversation about Social Security should be “parallel” to that on the deficit.

Lew offered that clarification to reporters about a section on Social Security in the president’s fiscal 2012 budget. The vaguely worded section laid out six principles for talking about Social Security but did not make clear if Obama wanted to have that discussion as part of a debt deal with Congress this year.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders will 'absolutely' work with Trump to lower prescription drug costs Sanders says he will introduce 'Medicare for all' bill Sunday shows preview: Aftermath of failed healthcare bill MORE (I-Vt.) pointed out this week his frustration that one of those principles stated the administration would not accept a proposal that “slashes” future benefits. He said that does not mean the administration will reject any cuts.

Robert Greenstein of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Thursday the debt commission plan is flawed in several ways, including in how it deals with Social Security, and members looking to make it the basis of a plan should be wary.

Greenstein said he originally did not object to reforming Social Security as part of a package but has since changed his mind. The sloppiness of the debt commission proposal illustrates that rushing to do it now could lead to a botched reform, he suggested.

“If you try to do everything all at once, you run a greater risk of producing a plan that has serious flaws,” he said.

The center released a study Thursday that it said shows the debt commission miscalculated and its plan actually does not include special protections for low-income workers as National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson have claimed.

A main reason is that benefits for low-income workers do not kick in unless a relatively high lifetime average income minimum is reached.

Greenstein also pointed out other flaws, such as that the debt commission report capped discretionary spending “without much in the way of specifics” and would curb tax earmarks without specifying which ones to end.

One of the biggest holes in the Bowles-Simpson plan is its treatment of Medicare, even though the commission report acknowledges that federal health spending, exploding due to aging baby boomers, is the “single largest fiscal challenge,” he said.

While the commission proposed smaller adjustments to Medicare, the heart of the problem is rising healthcare costs.

The debt commission report simply states that growth in federal healthcare spending should be capped at 1 percent of gross domestic product. It recommends the president and Congress find a way to do that.