Obama has proposed an often-discussed step, which deals with government accounting in general, not just entitlement programs. If Congress agrees to higher tax revenues, the president said, he would back a slower growth calculation for cost-of-living increases for Social Security benefits, plus higher Medicare premiums for higher-income seniors.
Interest groups have criticized both ideas. AARP calls the slower cost-of-living formula a "harmful change," and urges seniors to oppose it.
American voters can largely blame themselves when Congress is more talk than action on deficit reduction. Americans routinely say they want a smaller federal debt, but not at the cost of programs they hold dear — including Social Security and Medicare.
A CBS News poll in March found that most Americans want to cut spending and raise taxes to reduce the deficit. But 4 in 5 oppose cuts to Social Security or Medicare. And two-thirds are unwilling to have their own taxes raised in the name of deficit reduction.
When Pew Research asked which was more important — reducing the national debt or keeping Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are now — the public sided with safeguarding the benefits programs, 53 percent to 36 percent.
The deficit-spending partisanship continued Wednesday. On a party-line vote, House Ways and Means Committee Republicans passed a bill to protect Social Security recipients and investors in Treasury bonds if the government hits its borrowing limit and can't pay all its bills later this year. Democrats say if the federal government starts reneging on any obligations — even if it pays bondholders — financial markets will lose faith and the economy will tank.
Some Democrats fear a lose-lose situation if they support Obama's proposals. First, they could be attacked from the left for tweaking the programs that many Democrats see as their party's greatest legacy. And second, Republicans might accuse them of "raiding Medicare" in next year's congressional elections. That battle cry proved effective in 2010 after Obama's health care overhaul bill was passed.
Democrats call such tactics shamelessly hypocritical. Republicans, they note, have long called for reining in entitlement spending.
Boehner rebuked a top GOP campaign figure for hinting at a renewal of the "raiding Medicare" attacks. But Reince Priebus, the national Republican Party chairman, seemed eager to revive the question of whether Democratic trims to Medicare's costs amount to an unfair cut in benefits.
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