White House: Social Security should be off limits in "fiscal cliff" talks

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It appears another issue of disagreement has surfaced in regard to the negotiations over the so-called "fiscal cliff".

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Social Security is one entitlement program that should be addressed on a "separate track."

"We should address the drivers of the deficit and Social Security currently is not a driver of the deficit," Carney told reporters today. The senior retirement program is solvent for another 21 years, at which time recipients could see a reduction in benefits.

It's a similar position taken by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill, the number two Democrat in the Senate, on Sunday. "Social Security does not add one penny to our debt -- not a penny. It's a separate funded operation, and we can do things that I believe we should now, smaller things, played out over the long term that gives it solvency," Durbin said on ABC's "This Week."

But Republicans have insisted that reforming entitlement programs, including Social Security, which constitute more than one-third of federal spending, must be part of the equation if Republicans are willing to increase revenue by limiting tax deductions and loopholes.

"I don't think you can look at entitlement reform without adjusting the age for retirement," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Sunday. "I don't expect the Democrats to go for premium support or a voucher plan, but I do expect them to adjust these entitlement programs before they bankrupt the country and run out of money themselves."

"Without compromising our principles, we put skin in the game and recognition of the fact that while Democrats don't run this town, neither do we," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor today.

McConnell places the onus on the president to meet the Republicans in the middle. "We have been clear about what we'll do and what we want, and yet we remain at an impasse, leading us to ask why," McConnell said. "Because a vocal minority on the hard left continues to argue to leaders of their party from the president on down that Democrats in Washington should do absolutely nothing about short-term or long-term spending problems."

"We're going to get to a deal that works," Carney said before renewing the president's demand that taxes on those making more than $250,000. "His goal is to protect the middle class."

"The only person in America who can really make or break it is the president himself," McConnell said.

But Carney said that the president "remains committed" to the notion of compromise in order to reach a deal, which is why he is willing to discuss changes to the retiree health program, Medicare, and the health program for the poor, Medicaid.

Despite the gap in positions between Republicans and Democrats, Carney offered optimism about an impending deal to avert more than $500 billion worth of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take place after Jan. 1.

"Compromise requires both sides to make tough choices," Carney said.

The White House spokesman also confirmed that Mr. Obama spoke on the phone with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., over the weekend about the tax and spending negotiations.

As for upcoming meetings with the leaders, Carney said the president will "meet with them at the appropriate time." He added that White House staff are working with congressional staff "as we speak."

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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