By Mike Lillis - 10/04/11 10:52 PM EDT
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had a terse warning Tuesday for those hoping to rein in deficit spending by hiking Medicare's eligibility age: "Ain't gonna happen."
"Forty-five thousand people are dying in America this year because they don't have access to healthcare, and we'll be damned if we're going to allow more people to die by raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67," Sanders told a liberal crowd gathered in Washington for the Take Back the American Dream conference.
The Vermont liberal sounded a similar warning regarding proposals to scale back Social Security benefits.
"In the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression, you know what you don't do?" Sanders asked. "You don't cut Social Security – that's what you don't do. And anybody who tells you that Social Security is part of the deficit problem is lying to you."
Speaking at the same event earlier in the day, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) delivered a similar message, arguing that Congress's deficit-reduction efforts should focus on military cuts, not reductions in senior benefits.
"Social Security and Medicare are two of the great accomplishments of the American society of the last century," Frank said. "The biggest single chunk of deficit reduction must come from scaling back our enormous military expenditures from where they now are to where our legitimate needs are."
As part of their efforts to cut federal spending, GOP leaders are eying a number of entitlement reforms, including raising the eligibility age for seniors receiving Medicare and Social Security.
President Obama also riled liberals over the summer when he signaled a willingness to scale back some entitlement benefits as part of his (failed) effort to secure a bipartisan debt-ceiling deal with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Sanders's criticism Tuesday was largely directed toward the Republicans, who are also near-united in their opposition to tax hikes, even on the country's most profitable corporations.
"At a time when many … corporations pay little or nothing in taxes, the time is now to say to them, 'We are not going to balance the budget on the backs of the children, the elderly, the sick or the poor,'" Sanders said. "You're going to have to pay your fair share in taxes."
Some Republicans have responded to similar remarks by accusing the Democrats of inciting a class conflict.
"Class warfare may make for good politics, but it makes for rotten economics," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told Fox News Sunday last month. "We don’t need a system that seeks to divide people."
Sanders was quick to dispute the GOP's argument Tuesday, noting that the wealth and income gap dividing America's richest people and the middle class has grown considerably over the last several decades.
"Class warfare is being raged in America today," he said. "Unfortunately the wrong side is winning."