Republican supercommittee member vows no cuts to entitlement benefits

A Republican member of the powerful, deficit-slashing supercommittee vowed this week that the panel won't touch benefits under Social Security and Medicare.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it's "critical" that current enrollees in those entitlement programs "not see benefit reductions."

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"It’s awfully hard to tell someone … who might be 82, that they’ve gotta go back to work, because their benefits are gonna be chopped," Upton said Tuesday during a town-hall gathering in Kalamazoo, Mich. "That’s not gonna happen. We’re not gonna allow that to happen."

Upton's remarks highlight the nuanced nature of the hot-button debate over how to reform big entitlements and shore up finances.

As part of their 2012 budget blueprint, House Republicans proposed to cut benefits for future enrollees in both Medicare and Social Security — a proposal that drew howls from Democrats and proved widely unpopular in public opinion polls.

More recently, as part of the bipartisan talks over raising the debt limit, President Obama proposed to alter the formula for calculating Social Security benefits, which would have cut benefits for current enrollees.

Upton this week did not rule out the possibility that the supercommittee would scale back future benefits, instead emphasizing that current beneficiaries would not be affected by the panel's deficit-cutting efforts.

Most Democrats, meanwhile, oppose benefit cuts even for future enrollees. That position was renewed this week by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who vowed that the Democrats on the panel will work toward "creating jobs and reducing the deficit — while strengthening Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which are the priorities of the American people."

Created as part of the package to raise the debt ceiling, the supercommittee is charged with identifying at least $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction before Thanksgiving.

Seniors advocates welcomed Upton's remarks as a good sign leading into the high-stakes negotiations.

"We hope his public statement will encourage other supercommittee members and President Obama to similarly pledge to leave current beneficiaries alone,” Nancy Altman, head of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, said Thursday in a statement.