The Democratic rift over entitlements deepened this week as a top party contender for governor in Pennsylvania came under fire from liberals after a think tank of which she is co-chairwoman criticized economic-populism messages of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.
Liberals demanded that gubernatorial candidate Allyson Y. Schwartz cut her ties with Third Way after two of its top officials wrote an op-ed criticizing Ms. Warren and Mr. de Blasio by name, saying they are pushing a "'we can have it all' fantasy."
The activist groups Democracy for America and Progressive Change Campaign Committee pounced, demanding that Mrs. Schwartz, who is now a member of the U.S. House, relinquish her position as honorary co-chairwoman of Third Way.
One of her rivals in the Pennsylvania governor's race issued the same challenge.
The Schwartz campaign responded by saying the congresswoman "obviously disagrees with what was written" and "thinks what they wrote was outrageous."
The squabble marks the beginning of a fight over the direction of his party as it prepares for the 2016 elections and a new leader.
"This is the latest in a series of situations that are going to play out in the weeks and months to come as Democrats struggle to figure out how to move forward in the post-Obama era," said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist. "What is definitely going on is the left sees an opening given the current political dynamic for them to try to assert some sort of control on the Democratic Party."
Christy Setzer, a Democratic consultant, said that "the safety net's making a comeback."
"Polls show that not only do Americans want to preserve Social Security, they want to see it expanded — not just in NYC, but in Colorado," Ms. Setzer said. "That means that moving to the left is a viable position for Democrats in blue and red states alike."
The internal bickering is similar to the squabbles that have played out on the Republican side of the aisle, where some of the darlings of the tea party and conservative movement have accused GOP leaders of habitually selling out basic conservative principles.
Mrs. Warren and Mr. de Blasio have energized the liberal base of the Democratic ranks, which has accused the Obama administration of not fighting hard enough for the issues that they care about most.
Mr. de Blasio won the New York mayoral race Nov. 5 with more than 73 percent of the vote after vowing to raise taxes on the city's wealthier residents to cover the cost of expanded government programs — including universal pre-kindergarten — and to reduce inequality.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate two weeks later, Mrs. Warren said that if the nation wants a real middle class then Congress must get serious about the nation's retirement system because more people than ever are on the edge of financial disaster once they retire.
"That is why we should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits, not cutting them," she said.
In their Wall Street Journal op-ed, Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler, the president and senior vice president for policy of Third Way, took aim at Mrs. Warren and Mr. de Blasio, warning that it would be "disastrous for Democrats" to follow their lead on the policy front.
"The movement relies on a potent 'we can have it all' fantasy that goes something like this: If we force the wealthy to pay higher taxes (there are 300,000 tax filers who earn more than $1 million), close a few corporate tax loopholes, and break up some big banks then — presto! — we can pay for, and even expand, existing entitlements," they wrote. "Meanwhile, we can invest more deeply in K-12 education, infrastructure, health research, clean energy and more."
The Progressive Change Committee, which wants Congress to spend more on Social Security, responded by urging people to call Mrs. Schwartz and warn her that being associated with this "Wall-Street funded group that attacks Elizabeth Warren" is not the way to win the Democratic primary.
Howard Dean's Democracy for America said Pennsylvanians already have a governor who supports cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits and they don't need another one.
"If Allyson Schwartz opposes cutting the benefits that seniors and working families rely on and earn with every single paycheck, now is the time for her to say so publicly and resign from her position at Third Way," said Jim Dean, chairman of the group.
Mark Bergman, a spokesman for the Schwartz campaign, told The Washington Times that the veteran lawmaker has a track record of "standing up and protecting Medicare and Social Security."
"When she first got to Congress, Allyson was an outspoken advocate against President Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security and last year she was a leader in the House against Rep. Paul Ryan's attempt to end Medicare as we know it," he said.
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