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Growing signs Social Security, Medicare changes will be part of debt deal

social security checks
This Feb. 2005 file photo shows trays of printed social security checks waiting to be mailed from the U.S. Treasury. AP Photo

Washington leaders gave more indication today that changes to Social Security and Medicare are likely to be part of a potential deal to reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling.

President Obama on Friday acknowledged for the first time that he was considering changes to the programs like raising the retirement age or applying means testing.

Additionally, an administration official tells CBS News political analyst John Dickerson that a deal based on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's "back up plan" could include a binding commission charged with reviewing the entitlement programs.

The suggestion that changes to Social Security and Medicare are on the table has rankled defenders of the programs, including liberal activists and the nonpartisan senior group AARP. The fact that tinkering with those programs -- undeniably a politically risky move -- appears to be a central part of the debate illustrates the great challenge lawmakers have ahead of them, if they want to reach a deal by August 2.

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Previously, with respect to the Medicare and Social Security changes he would consider as part of a deficit reduction deal, Mr. Obama had refused to give any details.

But when asked at a press conference today whether he would consider means testing or raising the retirement age, Mr. Obama said, "We are willing to look at all those approaches."

The president said he views Social Security and Medicare "as the most important social safety nets that we have" and said current beneficiaries should not be affected by any changes. But future generations, he said, should possibly be subject to means testing.

"You can envision a situation where for somebody in my position, me having to pay a little bit more on premiums or co-pays, or things like that would be appropriate," Mr. Obama said. "It turns out that making some modest modifications in those entitlements can save you trillions of dollars."

The president's remarks spurred AARP to release a statement urging the president to drop any consideration of means testing.

"Medicare is not a welfare program," AARP Senior Vice President Joyce Rogers said in a statement, explaining that seniors pay into Medicare their entire working lives. "Applying a means test for their earned benefits would erode the popular support that has sustained these programs for years and made them so effective in helping older households."

The right way to strengthen Medicare, Rogers said, is by revamping the health care system to lower costs and improve quality.

"Simply shifting the bill to seniors would be like squeezing one end of a balloon - it does nothing to improve health care quality or combat the real problem of rising costs," she said.

Meanwhile, liberal activists with the grassroots group Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) marched to Mr. Obama's Chicago re-election campaign headquarters on Friday to protest potential changes to Medicare and Social Security. The group delivered 200,000 signatures from people who previously supported the president but will refuse to donate or volunteer for his campaign if the entitlement programs are cut.

"The Democratic Party should support the overwhelming will of Americans who say clearly that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid cuts must be completely off the table," Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of PCCC, said in a statement. "The middle class has sacrificed enough, and it's time to pass popular taxes on the rich and big corporations."

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