Senate Dem split on Obama budget on full display in hearing

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Zients argued that the most vulnerable seniors and veterans get a sufficient supplemental increase if they live long enough. 

“That’s a good talking point,” said an irate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who said the chained CPI proposal will hurt veterans.

“Mr. Zients, do you really think we should we do deficit reduction on the backs of men and women who lost arms and legs defending this country?” Sanders asked. 

Zients emphasized that means-tested veterans benefits are not affected by chained CPI. 

Sanders also blasted the administration for committing to revenue-neutral corporate tax reform. 

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) also harshly criticized Zients and alleged that the administration had not examined other options to fix Social Security. 

Centrist Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who has spent years chasing an elusive grand bargain, offered praise for the budget. 

“The fact you are getting so much grief from both sides of the aisle shows that you are probably in the zone where things are going to get talked about, because if there is not angst on both sides, things aren’t going to get done,” he said. 

“The president’s budget starts to take on challenges of Social Security,” he said, estimating that 22 percent of Social Security’s solvency problem would be solved by chained CPI. “The math is pretty persuasive.”

The Social Security trust fund is not estimated to be able to pay full benefits after about 2033. 

Centrist Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) signaled openness to chained CPI if a “circle of protection” can be constructed to help the most vulnerable, like those on Social Security for a long time. 

During the hearing he sought more details on the protections, which include “bump up” payments for those over age 75 and exemptions for poverty programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), noting he had “concerns.”