President Barack Obama’s decision to put Social Security and Medicare on the debt reduction table has angered seniors, a group of steadfast voters already disenchanted with the Democratic Party. And their ire could cost the president a second term.
Groups representing tens of millions of seniors were quick to issue statements opposing cuts in the programs, joining the key Democratic
constituency of organized labor in condemning the idea. Combined, the two groups could wreak havoc with Democratic plans for 2012.
The head of the 40-million-member AARP demanded that Social Security and Medicare be taken off the table.
“AARP will not accept any cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits as part of a deal to pay the nation’s bills,” said AARP CEO A. Barry Rand. “Social Security didn't cause the deficit, so it shouldn't be cut to reduce it. As the president and Congress work to negotiate a deal to raise the debt ceiling, AARP urges all lawmakers to reject any proposals that would cut the benefits seniors have earned through a lifetime of hard work.”
The 7-million-strong 60 Plus Association, the conservative alternative to the AARP, is equally opposed. “I don’t often agree with the far left in the president’s party, but I join them in their call to the president to keep ‘hands off Social Security and Medicare,’” said 60 Plus Chairman Jim Martin.
“Social Security is not the cause of our debt; decades of reckless spending and Washington politicians embezzling money from the cash-cow Social Security Trust Fund are the cause. For the president to rob seniors even further by proposing cuts to Social Security while he creates mammoth new entitlements shows he still doesn’t get it.”
Although seniors have favored Republicans in recent years, the margins can make all the difference in victory or defeat for Obama. Seniors went for Sen. John McCain over Obama by about 8 percent in 2008. However, seniors favored Republicans over Democrats by 21 percent in the 2010 midterms.
“Now, of course, this is two different groups of seniors,” says University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato. “That is, the turnout levels differed, and there weren’t contests everywhere in 2010, as opposed to the universal presidential race of 2008.”
However, there is “no question Obama has upset liberal Democrats in and out of Congress with his move to put Social Security and Medicare cuts on the table. That is certainly something Republicans can cite anytime they are attacked on the campaign trail by their opponents on those key issues,” said Sabato, directs the university’s Center for Politics.
Among those groups angered is the powerful AFL-CIO, a federation of 55 labor unions representing more than 12 million members.
“At a time when retirement security remains an elusive goal for most Americans, cuts to Social Security benefits — in whatever form they take — should not be on the table,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Furthermore, Social Security, our nation's most effective anti-poverty program, has not contributed one dime to the deficit and should not be part of any deficit-related trade-offs.
“The AFL-CIO continues to oppose any cuts in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits, including any cuts in cost of living adjustments. The best solution to our deficit problem is to create good jobs that will rebuild our economy. That should be our first priority.”
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group with 700,000 members devoted to electing progressive Democrats, has posted an online petition threatening to withdraw support from the president’s reelection.
“President Obama: If you cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits for me, my family, or families like mine, don't ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012,” it reads. “I'm going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates who will fight to protect our Democratic legacy.”
The bluster on the left may fade should nothing occur. “Groups don’t stay mad about proposals that never happen,” Sabato said.
The GOP is also vulnerable. Any Obama proposal is subject to the approval of Congress.
“The president wants to rob America’s senior citizens, and he’s asking the Republicans to drive the get-away car by joining him in this proposal,” 60 Plus’ Martin said. “For their sake, I hope the Republican leadership turns a deaf ear to this continued attack on older Americans and declares this proposal ‘DOA’.”
Sabato also said Democrats will use Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal to remake Medicare as a weapon in 2012.
“Since seniors have been voting Republican, there must be reasons beyond entitlements,” he said. “Seniors tend to be more conservative fiscally and socially than younger people. This will probably keep them voting Republican in 2012, come what may. The question is: What will the margin be? And it is just too early to know.”
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