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Mr. Edwards said he suspects the president chose not to deal with Social Security now “so he could pounce on the Republicans and denounce their barbaric cuts when they proceed” with reforms.

“All those voters who swung from the Democratic side to the Republican side, all those independents, in this last November election, their swing to Republicans has now been validated,” he said.

The president’s high-level deficit commission late last year recommended sweeping changes to Social Security, including curbing benefits and raising the age at which Americans could receive retirement benefits.

Analysts generally agree that Social Security would be significantly easier to reform than Medicare. Raising eligibility age requirements and reducing annual cost-of-living increases, for example, are simple procedures and could be implemented gradually over several years to reduce the impact on retirees.

Social Security is simply a question of demographics and math,” Mr. Tanner said. “Medicare depends on the cost of health care - an uncontrollable variable.”

Yet in Washington, lawmakers and administrations of both parties for years have considered Social Security a politically untouchable “third rail,” fearing a public backlash at election time if they pushed for reform.

“At some point it may be more touchable than others, but it hasn’t lost its electricity,” said Sarah A. Binder of the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think tank. “I think that underlies both parties regarding their skittishness to touch it.”

Capitol Hill Republicans, while quick to attack the president’s budget outline, haven’t offered their own detailed Social Security reform plan. But House GOP leaders have hinted that reductions in Social Security funding could be included in their 2012 budget proposal, which is expected this spring.

Republican hesitation to jump too quickly into the Social Security reform fray may stem from the party’s failed push to privatize the retirement system during the Bush administration, Ms. Binder said.

“Republicans probably took a lesson from that as well, which is, if you’re going to propose it, you have to find the right terms to do it on and find the right way to frame it and package it,” she said.

Mr. Obama has promised to work with Republicans in coming months on revamping the entitlement programs.

“When it comes to difficult choices about our budget and our priorities, we have found common ground before,” the president said Feb. 15, a day after he sent Congress his $3.7 trillion budget blueprint for 2012. “I’m confident we can get Social Security done in the same way that Ronald Reagan and [Democratic House Speaker] Tip O’Neill were able to get it done: by parties coming together, making some modest adjustments.”

The president’s reluctance to be out in front of the of Social Security reform debate fits with his penchant for letting Congress take the lead on major legislative issues, political analysts say.

“I wouldn’t have expected the president to just lay it out there, that he was going to do it himself,” said John C. Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think thank. “There is still some worry [in Washington] that if you put anything out there … it might box you in to do some things later on that people might react against.”

Reforming Social Security would do much to convince world capital markets that the U.S. is a responsible borrower, Mr. Holtz-Eakin said, and leaving a broken system for younger generations to fix is irresponsible.

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