Angry over anticipated changes to Social Security in President Obama's budget, liberal lawmakers, unions and groups representing retired Americans protested outside the White House on Tuesday, one day ahead of the the budget's scheduled release.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, as well as Democratic Reps. Mark Takano of California and Rick Nolan of Minnesota joined officials from the AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org, the National Organization for Women, the Alliance for Retired Americans, Social Security Works, and several other organizations in a rally outside the White House gates.
The demonstrators, who numbered a few dozen, also delivered a petition with 2.3 million signatures from Americans across the country opposed to Mr. Obama's move to slow the growth of Social Security.
Since details of Mr. Obama's budget emerged late last week, Democratic leaders in Congress have been largely silent as outside groups and members of the president's liberal base have erupted in anger over elements of the plan because it would gradually reduce benefits for seniors on fixed incomes.
"Real Democrats don't cut Social Security benefits, period, and it's positively shameful that a Democratic president is leading the charge to do so," said Jim Dean, brother of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and the chairman of Democracy for America, a political action committee that supports liberal candidates and helped organize Tuesday's protest.
The group, along with others, has vowed to recruit a primary opponent for any Democrat in Congress who votes for a plan that cuts Social Security.
"So let's be clear: Any congressional Democrat who goes along with plan the president is proposing and votes to cut Social Security benefits should be prepared to face the ire of the progressive base of the Democratic Party and the primary challenges that come along with it," Mr. Dean continued.
Mr. Obama's spending blueprint will propose moving from the current inflation measure to the so-called "chained" consumer price index (CPI) to calculate Social Security benefits, a move that would slow the program's cost growth of by reducing payments over time to seniors and future retirees.
It also will call for higher-income beneficiaries to pay more for Medicare coverage, and for $600 billion in new revenue — most of which would come from capping the tax deductions that those in the higher tax brackets can claim.
Groups devoted to safeguarding Social Security accuse Mr. Obama both of breaking his election campaign promise to protect America's social safety net and of using seniors' entitlement program as a bargaining chip.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said along with "chained" CPI, the budget also would include a proposal to protect the poor and the elderly but did not provide details of the plan.
The president's budget, Mr. Carney argued, takes a "balanced approach" to deficit reduction that increases spending on infrastructure and job training to help the economy, unlike the House Republican's budget plan that he said "voucherizes" Medicare and would make deep cuts to Social Security.
When details of the president's budget emerged last week, Republicans immediately rejected the idea of raising taxes, arguing that they agreed to tax increases as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal that passed Congress early in the year.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the changes to Social Security Mr. Obama is proposing don't go nearly far enough and complained that the president is only offering them if Republicans agreed to the tax cuts.
Mr. Boehner's spokesman Brendan Buck on Tuesday called on Mr. Obama to live up to his rhetoric to find common ground. In an essay on his boss's Web site, Mr. Buck wrote that early previews of the budget suggest it's a package that few outside the White House can support.
"The critical question is whether the president will approach it as a take-it-or-leave-it offer or recognize that finding common ground and making progress is more important than imposing his will on Congress," he wrote.
But other Republicans have been more receptive. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, praised Mr. Obama for offering a compromise he knew would alarm his liberal base.
"The president is showing a little bit of leg here; this is somewhat encouraging," he said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We're beginning to set the stage for a grand bargain."
Over the weekend, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the president is searching for rank-and-file Republicans willing to work with the president on a budget deal who "don't think compromise is a dirty word."
After releasing the budget Wednesday, Mr. Obama plans to dine with a dozen Senate Republicans at the White House that evening, an opportunity for cross-party talks on budget matters, immigration and tax reform.
This is the second dinner Mr. Obama has held with Republican senators this year, the first taking place in early March at the Jefferson Hotel.
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