Reid, Senate Dems oppose Social Security cuts in debt deal

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and 28 other members of the 53-member Senate Democratic caucus have signed a letter opposing any cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction package.

The letter forms a significant marker as Congress looks toward a possible deficit bargain in the lame-duck session after the election. It says Social Security has problems down the road, but that they should be dealt with separately from any budget deal.

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Cuts to Social Security and other entitlements are seen as key to getting the bipartisan cooperation of Republicans in any deal, just as revenue increases are key for Democrats.

The Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan produced by President Obama's deficit commission contained Social Security cuts, including a change in the way inflation is calculated and an increase in the retirement age.

The letter could reduce the chances for a long-term, multi-trillion-dollar deal soon. Congress will need to put some kind of deal in place before January to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of indiscriminate spending cuts and tax increases.

The Senate's number three Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), also signed the letter. Notably, Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who supported Bowles-Simpson, did not.

The letter was organized by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.).

"To be sure, Social Security has its own long-term challenges that will need to be addressed in the decades ahead. But the budget and Social Security are separate, and should be considered separately," the letter states.

Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) also signed on. 

The letter was hailed by some groups representing senior citizens.

“Unlike Governor Mitt Romney, the senators who signed this letter understand that Social Security is earned through hard work and contributions; it is not a government handout," said Nancy Altman, founding co-director of Social Security Works.