By Alexander Bolton - 08/08/11 09:34 PM EDT
Labor unions and liberal groups are leery that Senate Democrats are willing to allow cuts to entitlement programs in a round of deficit-reduction talks slated for later this year.
These groups have stepped up pressure on Democratic leaders to appoint staunch party loyalists to the "supercommittee" tasked with cutting $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit.
The Strengthen Social Security Campaign, a coalition that includes dozens of labor unions and liberal advocacy groups, has drafted a letter to Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) pressing them to pick three “steadfast supporters of Social Security.”
“We feel very strongly that your three appointees to the Joint Select Committee on Budget Deficit Reduction should be steadfast supporters of Social Security, who oppose including cuts to the program in any plan to reduce the deficit,” the coalition’s leaders wrote Monday in the draft letter obtained by The Hill.
The draft version of the letter was addressed only to Reid, a sign that groups are likely more concerned about the possible defection of a Senate Democratic member of the supercommittee.
The final version of the letter made public later in the day was addressed to Reid and Pelosi.
The coalition consists of several powerful unions and liberal groups including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, MoveOn.org Political Action, NAACP, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
These organizations are not worried about Reid as much as they are about colleagues such as Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who have expressed support for trimming Social Security benefits.
Durbin and Conrad served on the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission and voted for a proposal to raise the Social Security age from 67 to 69 and use the chained consumer price index (CPI), a different accounting method that would lower cost-of-living adjustments.
Durbin, Conrad and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) were the three Democrats in the Senate’s Gang of Six, which called for Social Security and Medicare cuts in its deficit-reduction framework. The gang’s plan would substitute the chained CPI and take $112 billion from beneficiaries over the next decade, according to an analysis posted by Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal group.
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Both the Simpson-Bowles commission and the Gang of Six would have used the savings from cutting benefits to extend the solvency of the program. But labor unions and liberal groups would prefer raising the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.
Warner has said he wants to serve on the supercommittee that is charged with putting together a deficit-reduction package by Nov. 23 but acknowledged he won’t likely be picked. Durbin and Conrad have a better chance of serving on the panel given their seniority and influence within the Democratic caucus.
“Regrettably, Social Security cuts were on the table during recent rounds of deficit negotiations between the White House and the Congress,” Strengthen Social Security Campaign wrote. “A strong push was made to, at a minimum, reduce Social Security’s cost of-living adjustments by adopting the chained CPI.
“Such a cut would violate a promise made by politicians that they would not support benefit cuts for anyone currently receiving benefits or of persons who were nearing retirement age.
Reid has vocally opposed cuts to Social Security benefits and the coalition’s letter acknowledged he is “a true champion of Social Security.”
An aide to Reid said his boss will continue to oppose benefit cuts.
“His position on Social Security has been very, very clear,” said the aide. “He hasn’t changed his position on Social Security.”
But Reid might be helpless to stop a proposal from the joint, select committee that cuts Social Security or Medicare. If only seven of the panel’s 12 members agreed on a package, it would be guaranteed an up-or-down vote and be protected from amendments on the Senate floor.
Labor unions and liberal groups are worried about the possibility of one of the six Democrats defecting. The committee will be established under the auspices of the legislation Congress passed last week to raise the debt ceiling.
Reid and Pelosi each will pick three members of the supercommittee and have until Aug. 16 to make their selections.