Deficit Deal May Fail if U.S. Social Security Cuts Included, Durbin Says

Senator Richard Durbin, the second- ranking Democrat and a participant in bipartisan talks on a proposal to reduce the U.S. debt, said including cuts in Social Security would threaten any agreement’s chances of approval.

Many Democrats are wary of addressing the entitlement program for the elderly in a long-range budget plan because they view Republicans as too willing to move toward privatizing Social Security, the Illinois senator said today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“Including Social Security makes it increasingly difficult to bring the votes together, the 60 votes we need in the Senate” for approving any deal, Durbin said. Among Senate Democrats, “there’s a feeling there for a long time the Republicans have wanted to push toward privatizing Social Security and doing things which we don’t agree with,” he said.

Durbin said he still believes Social Security should be part of a deal, saying, “I haven’t given up” on a broad pact that includes changes to the program, as well as tax increases and other proposals to curb the debt.

The debate over Social Security is taking place as Republicans and Democrats in Congress are deadlocked over spending cuts for this year, with a U.S. government shutdown looming if they don’t agree by April 8. Lawmakers also must begin work soon on a 2012 budget and vote as early as May on raising the $14.3 trillion national debt ceiling.

Rally on Social Security

Other Democratic leaders are insisting on leaving Social Security out of the negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, today helped lead a rally with other Democratic senators that called on Republicans to “Back Off Social Security.” Reid and Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, have said they oppose including Social Security cuts in any deficit-reduction plan.

It’s an “outright lie” to say that Social Security is “headed toward bankruptcy,” Reid said, calling the entitlement program “the most successful social program in the history of the world.”

“Let’s worry about Social Security when it’s a problem,” Reid said. “Today it’s not a problem.”

On the Republican side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he won’t consider changes to entitlement programs unless President Barack Obama shows support for such cuts. McConnell also has said he opposes raising taxes as part of a deficit-cutting plan.

Debt Commission

Leaders of a bipartisan debt-reduction commission last year proposed a Social Security fix that would combine benefit cuts and tax increases for future retirees. The overall proposal failed to gain enough support from the panel’s 18 members to win approval.

Two weeks ago 64 senators called on Obama to lead an effort to include spending cuts and tax increases in the negotiations on this year’s budget.

“With a strong signal of support from you, we believe that we can achieve consensus on these important fiscal issues,” said the letter from 32 Senate Republicans and 32 Senate Democrats.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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