Proposed Social Security, Medicare changes draw fire from AARP and others

CAROUSEL - social security check This Feb. 2005 file photo shows trays of printed social security checks waiting to be mailed from the U.S. Treasury. The government is projecting a slight cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits next year, the first increase since 2009. But for most beneficiaries, rising Medicare premiums threaten to wipe out any increase in payments, leaving them without a raise for a third straight year.
AP Photo

White House officials said yesterday it's still possible that President Obama and congressional leaders could reach a deal to reduce the deficit by as much as $4 trillion over a decade -- meaning cuts to Social Security and Medicare are still on the table.

The potential cuts to the possible entitlement programs have senior and health care advocates sounding out in alarm, while the Democratic and Republican parties are already crafting messages to blame the other side for potentially hurting the programs.

The nonpartisan AARP is spending millions of dollars to launch a television ad nationally and in local markets today, urging Congress and Mr. Obama to take Social Security and Medicare off the table.

The ad features a man who identifies himself as a grandfather and retired teacher.

"Right now, some in Washington want to make a deal cutting the Social Security and Medicare benefits we worked for," he sayd. "With billions in waste and loopholes, how could they look at us? Maybe we seem like an easy target -- until you realize there are 50 million of us."

This is the third ad AARP has run that focuses on the deficit debate. The group is also lobbying members of Congress directly and turning over millions of petition signatures in opposition to the proposed cuts.

Mr. Obama said on Monday he was prepared to "take heat" from his liberal base for accepting changes to the programs as part of his deficit reduction deal with Republicans. "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," he said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Tuesday shared with he GOP conference outlines of the deficit reduction proposals on the table, including significant changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

Cantor said Mr. Obama's proposal to achieve about $4 trillion in savings included plans to raise the Medicare eligibility age, impose means testing for Medicare, and change the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment formula.

When asked yesterday whether reports that Mr. Obama would support raising the retirement age were accurate, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "A lot of the reporting about what has been under consideration has been accurate."

Cantor yesterday also gave an outline of the proposals that were on the table during the earlier negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden. Those included achieving between $334 and $353 billion in health savings over 10 years. As much as $53 billion of that would come from scaling back the supplemental Medicare coverage program known as Medigap, while changes to home health care coverage and lab test coverage were also on the table.

The various suggestions have been met with resistance from a variety of health care advocacy groups, the New York Times reports. The National Council on Aging said it opposes the Medigap proposal, while the American Clinical Laboratory Association is against charging small co-payments for lab tests.

Fiddling with Medicare or Social Security is also an unpopular move with voters, as Congress knows all too well following the 2010 midterm elections. The liberal group Firedoglake is mobilizing voters to visit the local offices of their senators and representatives on July 19, to express their opposition to the latest plans.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama told CBS News on Tuesday that if a deal isn't reached to reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling, Social Security checks may stop going out all together.

Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, released a statement blasting Republicans for refusing to take seriously "the possibility that seniors could be denied Social Security benefit."

"Senate Republicans have put us in this position by walking away from every attempt at finding a long-term solution to our national debt," she said.

The DSCC is also asking its supporters to sign a petition against the GOP plan to "destroy Medicare." The petition says "it's going to be THE issue in the next election."

Republicans, meanwhile, are calling the attacks "disingenuous."

In a memo to 2012 Republican Senate candidates, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn said that if Democrats don't give in more in the deficit reduction talks, "the decision to stop sending Social Security checks, or other benefits lies solely with the Obama Administration."