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Sell-Out Alert: 9 Democrats Already Caving to GOP On Social Security Cuts

Why aren’t key Democrats defending needed retirement programs?

Photo Credit: Gerry Boughan /


The next drama shaping up in Washington is one almost all Americans don’t want—cutting retirement benefits earned over a lifetime. At least nine Democratic senators are lining up with Republicans looking for big spending and tax cuts.

“It’s a horrible negotiating position,” said Warren Gunnels, senior policy advisor to Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-VT, who has been appointed to the 2013 federal budget conference committee, where the debate is taking shape.

“You hear these people saying, ‘We have to be the adults at the table and the Republicans don’t negotiate. Aren’t we reasonable?’” he continued. “A more reasonable position is a majority of Americans don’t want Social Security, Medicare and Medicare cut at all. Why don’t we have one political party represent what a majority of people want?”

October’s government shutdown and threatened debt default was disruptive and hurt the economy. But what is emerging is an entirely different drama, one that could shape the quality of tens of millions of people’s final decades. Most Americans do not have much in retirement savings and will live on Social Security now averaging $1,200 a month, and receive their healthcare under Medicare. Similarly, nearly two-thirds of Medicaid recipients are children from poor homes or adults with disabilities.   

TheNational Journal, a leading conservative publication, did a nationwide poll in the first week of the shutdown and tilted its questions to try to show public support for the GOP’s intransigence and for cutting entitlements. What it didn’t put on its website but was buried in its results (see page 4) was that 76 percent said Social Security should be cut “not at all,” as opposed to cut “a lot” or “some.” Eighty-one percent said Medicare should be cut “not at all.” And 60 percent replied "not at all" to cutting Medicaid. These results tracked two other National Journal polls done in 2012 and other national surveys. 

But, as Sen. Sanders’ policy aide noted, the mindset in too many Washington circles is taking a completely opposite view. You would expect corporate defenders among the GOP to do what they have been doing since the government reopened—clamoring for cuts to social programs, as their rich benefactors don’t need them, and cutting tax rates, which makes wealthy people and businesses even wealthier. That’s what GOP leaders said; they’ll end the across-the-board federal cuts known as the sequester if Democrats agree to future cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid firmly said no to that. But a day after the government reopened, the nation’s top Democrat, President Obama, spoke about the need to address “long-term obligations that we have around things like Medicare and Social Security.” The Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, Washington’s Patty Murray, said “all issues are on the [negotiating] table.”

The Senate’s number-two top Democrat, Illinois’ Dick Durban, later in the week told Fox News Sunday that “Social Security is going to run out of money in 20 years…Medicare may run out of money in 10 years. Let’s fix it now.” Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner told the same program, “We all know at the end of the day, Republicans are going to have to give on revenues, Democrats are going to have to give on entitlement reform.” 

The list of Democrats who are entering these negotiations enbracing the GOP’s terms continues. There are at least nine in the Senate. California’s Dianne Feinstein, Montana’s Max Baucus, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Delaware’s Chris Coons and Tom Carper, and Colorado’s Michael Bennett have all said they support cuts to entitlements in letters to constituents, proposed bills or statements made after the President’s fiscal reform commission led by Eskine Bowles and Alan Simpson issued its 2010 report proposing capping or cutting entitlements while lowering or eliminating corporate taxes.