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Irate liberal groups to fight Obama budget proposal

President Obama on Wednesday will introduce a budget proposal that, even by his own standards, isn't great. In his weekly radio address on Saturday, the president acknowledged it's not his "ideal plan" for reducing the deficit or growing the economy.

It shouldn't be that surprising, then, that his party's progressive base is irate. A collection of liberal grassroots groups are joining with organized labor other groups Tuesday to make it clear to the White House that they flat out oppose one of the key elements of Mr. Obama's plan -- the seemingly innocuous proposal to change the way the government measures inflation.

"This is a challenge, but we don't feel we have any choice but to do everything we can to change the outcome of this debate from where the president seems to be driving it," Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, told

Richtman's organization and several others are delivering more than a million petition signatures to the White House Tuesday, opposing any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

While the White House has yet to lay out the details of the president's proposed 2014 budget, it has confirmed that cuts to Social Security are part of the plan -- in the shape of a "chained" consumer price index (chained CPI), or a change in measuring inflation.

A "chained" CPI measures inflation more conservatively (about 0.2 or 0.3 percentage points more slowly) than the standard CPI that's currently used to make cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security benefits.

Democrats in Congress have had no qualms about labeling the potential use of the chained CPI as cut to Social Security benefits, and last week, the White House didn't deny it.

"This is not the president's idealized budget," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday, when asked about the fact that the chained CPI would not only effectively cut benefits for seniors, but also for veterans. "It is not what he would do if he were king or if only people who supported his proposals were in Congress."

Opponents of the chained CPI are skeptical that putting this offer on the table will make Republicans any more open to increasing tax revenues as part of a deficit reduction plan. Richtman pointed out that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has suggested Republicans would like to take the president's concession without offering up any of their own.

Boehner said in a statement last week, "If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there's no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes."

Some conservatives, however -- both in and out of Congress -- sound pleased with the president's proposal. Charles Blahous, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a public trustee for Medicare and Social Security, noted that moving to a chained CPI would have a relatively minor impact, but he nevertheless called it a positive step.

"Adopting chained-CPI simply complies with the clear intent of current law, which is to measure general inflation as accurately as possible," he said in a statement. "Those who oppose CPI reform because they fear its effects on benefit growth are approaching the problem backwards. The purpose of annual [cost-of-living] adjustments isn't to provide a particular benefit level -- it's to adjust for general price inflation as we can best measure it. If we're serious about preserving benefit security, we should focus instead on promptly enacting a comprehensive solvency solution."

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Sunday called Mr. Obama's plan "somewhat encouraging," adding that he's "looking for the biggest spending cut in American history by reforming entitlements."

It's unclear, however, how many members of Congress would join Graham in that commitment, given how unpopular cutting Social Security would be.

The AARP on Monday released a national survey showing that 84 percent of voters 50 years and older oppose reducing Social Security benefits to reduce the deficit. Two-thirds of older American voters said they would be considerably less favorable to their member of Congress if the member voted for a chained CPI. A CBS News poll from December of last year similarly found that 57 percent of Americans opposed reducing Social Security benefits for higher-income seniors as a means of reducing the deficit.

Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America, said his organization's grassroots efforts to lobby against the chained CPI "may not sway the White House -- but it will definitely sway the Democrats in Congress."

Protecting Social Security, he said, is "a core value" of the Democratic Party, and "anybody who was going to vote for something like this would run the risk of a primary. But I don't think we're going to have that problem."

Even Republicans, Dean contended, will at the end of the day find the proposal too politically risky. "Can you imagine Steve King being part of this discussion?" he asked, referring to the Iowa GOP congressman who may run for the Senate. "He's running for Senate in a state with the oldest demographic in the country -- it's just not going to work."

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