WASHINGTON -- If President Barack Obama keeps on signaling his willingness to cut Social Security benefits, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) warned Tuesday, people are going to start thinking he actually wants to cut them.
In hopes of achieving a compromise with Republicans on higher taxes, the White House has said it will propose reducing future cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries, a policy Obama has endorsed before. Sanders noted that not even House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) touched Social Security in his austere budget outline last year, meaning Obama essentially owns the proposal.
"Paul Ryan, in the worst budget ever presented in the history of the United States, did not mention Social Security, so of course [Obama] owns it," Sanders said as he left a rally outside the White House, where he and a handful of congressional Democrats, Social Security advocates, and labor leaders denounced Social Security cuts on Tuesday.
"And I suspect that our Republican friends will make sure the American people understand that he owns it, and make sure the American people understand that any Democrat who supports cuts in Social Security and benefits for disabled vets will also be forced to own that," Sanders said. "From a political point of view it is to my mind just a really dumb tactic. I don't understand it."
Sanders and other speakers at Tuesday's rally denounced the Obama administration's embrace of "chained CPI" -- an alternate version of the Consumer Price Index used to calculate inflation for tax brackets and annual cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security. Chained CPI would make those adjustments smaller over time, saving the federal government more than $100 billion in Social Security payments alone over 10 years.
"We stand against any cuts in benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," AFL-CIO policy director Damon Silvers said. "The chained CPI is Washington-speak for a benefit cut."
White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday the White House only supported the proposal on two conditions. "One, it's part of a balanced package that includes asking -- closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest, and two, that it has protections for the most vulnerable, including the oldest seniors," Pfeiffer said.
Republicans, for their part, have said that if Obama supports paring back the federal government's social insurance programs, they'd be happy to join him, as long as he doesn't call for tax increases as well.
Asked Tuesday how Senate Democrats felt about the inclusion of chained CPI in the president's forthcoming budget, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate has already passed a budget. "It's a good budget," Reid said. "It sets our priorities and the priorities of the American people and the Democrats. The president has his budget."
Preston Maddock contributed to this story.