A group of progressive lawmakers led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday called for protecting Social Security and Medicare benefits in any deficit reduction deal.
"We're going to send a loud message to the leadership in the House, in the Senate and President Obama. Do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, do not cut Medicaid," Sanders said. "Deficit reduction is a serious issue but it must be done in a way that is fair. We must not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children or the poor."
Thursday's press conference was the latest in a series of high-profile events surrounding negotiations to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff," a set of tax increases and spending cuts set to go into effect on Jan. 1. Although no immediate economic damage will be inflicted if Congress and President Barack Obama fail to act by the new year, several months of higher tax rates on the middle class would likely throw the country into a recession.
Obama has said forcefully that he will allow the Bush-era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year to expire at the end of the year, but he has been much less clear about the fate of Social Security and Medicare. On Wednesday, Obama told reporters he wants to cut "a big deal, a comprehensive deal" with Republicans to reduce the federal budget deficit that will tackle "entitlements."
"I do not often quote Ronald Reagan," Sanders said. "This is what Ronald Reagan said on October 7, 1984. 'Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. Social Security is totally funded by the payroll tax ... if you reduce the outflow of Social Security, that money would not go into the general fund to reduce the deficit.' End of quote, Ronald Reagan -- which goes to show you, anybody can be right at least once."