Newspaper article

Minnesota's Liberals Lead the Charge against Obama's Budget

Newspaper article

Minnesota's Liberals Lead the Charge against Obama's Budget

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- When President Obama introduced his 2014 budget plan on Wednesday, pitching cuts to Social Security and Medicare in hopes of extracting new taxes from Republicans, congressional liberals couldn't reject it fast enough.

In fact, they so anticipated Obama's move toward entitlement cuts that they had prepared an all-out assault against them. Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan spoke at an anti-cuts protest outside the White House on Tuesday. At a Thursday press conference, members of Rep. Keith Ellison's Congressional Progressive Caucus posed next to boxes symbolizing 2 million petitions opposing the cuts, and Ellison was promising to organize votes against them.

As a stand-alone budget proposal, Obama's plan is dead on arrival in Congress. It functions more realistically as his opening salvo in a broader debate over deficit reduction: In offering to compromise by cutting entitlement programs, he's hoping Republicans will do the same with new tax revenue.

The splashiest part of Obama's proposal is something called "chained CPI." Essentially, chained CPI ties the growth of Social Security benefits to a slower rate of inflation. Such a move would save about $130 billion over 10 years, but at the expense of individuals on Social Security, who would see their benefits cut. Obama also proposed more than $300 billion in Medicare cuts, though both are contingent on Republicans giving on revenue.

Compromise, by definition, ensures hardliners for one policy or another are going to unhappy with what's put before them. So it's no surprise that the most vocal opponents of Obama's plan weren't Republicans, who dismissed it almost out of hand, but members of Obama's own party.

Under an unseasonably hot April sun on Thursday, members of the Progressive Caucus raged against the Social Security cuts for nearly half an hour, and weren't afraid to call out Obama along the way.

"What the president has proposed in his budget is a cutting of Social Security benefits," Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said. "I don't know who convinced the president to put that in or what he's thinking about, but it's a bad place to start, and it's a bad place to stop."

Two camps of Democrats

But the angst is not confined to just the liberal wing of the party. In February, a group of 107 House Democrats -- more than half the caucus -- wrote Obama a letter demanding the cuts be taken off the table in budget and deficit reduction negotiations.

The party as a whole seems split on the issue. For moderate Democrats, instituting a policy like chained CPI is not necessarily off limits as long as Republicans are willing to similarly compromise on revenue as part of some large-scale deficit reduction package.

"It depends on what's coming in on the other side," Rep. Tim Walz said. But, "as a stand-alone, no," he wouldn't support something like chained CPI. …

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