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Obama prepared to "take heat" over issues like Social Security

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

President Obama said today he's prepared to take "significant heat" from his party over certain elements of the deficit reduction deal he's currently negotiating with congressional leaders, including changes to Social Security.

Furthermore, he said, true progressives should want to modify the popular entitlement program in order to preserve it -- and they might as well take that tough vote now, with the rest of the politically unpalatable debt deal.

"If you're a progressive who cares about the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and believes that it is part of what makes our country great... then we have an obligation to make sure that we make those changes that are required to make it sustainable over the long term," Mr. Obama said at a White House press conference. "And the reason to include that potentially in this package is, if you're gonna take a bunch of tough votes, you might as well do it now, as opposed to trying to muster up the political will to get something done further down in the future."

The president has been negotiating with Congress over a deal to reduce the deficit over the next decade by trillions of dollars. Republicans have insisted on creating a deficit and debt reduction plan as a condition of voting to raise the debt ceiling - the amount of money that the U.S. government is technically allowed to borrow.

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Mr. Obama said today that he's seeking the biggest deal possible, even though House Speaker John Boehner said over the weekend that a smaller deal with no tax increases is the only option that could pass in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The president said a deal must be -- and will be -- reached by Aug. 2. Economists have warned of catastrophic consequences for the U.S. and global economy if Congress does not increase the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2.

In order to reach a deal, Mr. Obama said today that both parties must take on their "sacred cows." For Democrats, that means modifying programs like Social Security, even though the liberal base is irate at such a prospect.

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"There is, frankly, resistance on my side to do anything on entitlements. There is strong resistance on the Republican side to do anything on revenues," Mr. Obama said. "But if each side takes a maximalist position, if each side wants 100 percent of what its ideological predispositions are, then we can't get anything done."

Late last week, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi left open the possibility of agreeing to change the Social Security formula for cost-of-living adjustments. Some argue that the current consumer price index (CPI) used to adjust benefits overstates the living costs for most seniors. Some liberals, however, argue that modifying CPI amounts to cutting benefits from seniors.

Mr. Obama would not say specifically whether he backed changes to the CPI, or other means of modifying Social Security, such as raising the retirement age. He noted, as he has repeatedly, that "Social Security is not the source of our deficit problems."

"On the other hand," he continued, "we do want to make sure that Social Security is going to be there for next generations. And if there is a reasonable deal to be had on it, it is one that I'm willing to pursue."

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