Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) warned Friday that President Obama faces turmoil in the Senate and in his reelection campaign if he includes Social Security cuts in any debt-ceiling deal.
The senators said the White House has not communicated effectively to Senate Democrats and they and their rank-and-file colleagues are being frozen out of the process.
“I have talked to some of my colleagues, including some that you might not expect, who say if [White House officials] bring to the Senate a piece of crap that comes down heavy on working families and children and the elderly and they expect me to matter-of-factly vote for it, they'll have another thing coming,” Sanders said. He added that he would filibuster such a deal.
“I do worry that the White House is misreading the Senate and taking things for granted,” Whitehouse said. “There has not been enough communication to alleviate that potential misreading.”
Sanders wants Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to rule out any benefit cuts, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has done.
Whitehouse noted that Democrats can support a $4 trillion deficit-reduction package without touching Social Security. He noted the so-far secret Senate Budget Committee plan has more deficit reduction than the House-passed budget without doing so.
Both men said they have only heard of potential cuts to Social Security through newspaper accounts and they do not know what is on the table.
Sources have said that at the very least, leaders are considering whether to alter how inflation is calculated. This move would reduce benefits by an average of $1,000 per year after 20 years, Sanders noted.
Sanders quoted Obama as saying during the 2008 campaign that he would not change the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security.
“You have a gentleman who ran for president who made a promise to the American people, and it is important he keep it,” Sanders said.
The senators were joined on a press call by a coalition of liberal groups that said Obama would be punished at the polls if he touches the third rail of Social Security.
Sarah Lane of MoveOn.org warned that 76 percent of her members have said they would be less likely to donate to or volunteer for Obama if he cuts Social Security.
The Strengthen Social Security Campaign has targeted next Thursday, July 14, as a day to flood Congress with calls opposing the proposal.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security will be out with a new advertisement campaign by mid-week.