With Social Security On the Table, Obama Draws Progressives' Ire

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer ( @devindwyer) reports: President Obama has done what some members of his liberal base have considered the unthinkable, and now he’ll have to face their outrage.

Obama signaled at his press conference today that changes to Social Security could be a bargaining chip in a deficit reduction deal with Republicans – something many Democrats have staunchly opposed.

“The reason to do Social Security is to strengthen Social Security to make sure that those benefits are there for seniors in the out-years,” Obama said. “ And the reason to include that potentially in this package is if you’re going to take a bunch of tough votes, you might as well do it now, as opposed to trying to muster up the political will to get something done further down in the future.”

While Social Security is not a major contributor to the nation’s deficit, Obama suggested changes to the program could also reap some budgetary savings, possibly through changes to the eligibility age or the formula by which payments are calculated. Any reconfiguration of the program would likely alter benefits for some future or current retirees.

The comments drew a sharp rebuke from some progressive activists, many of whom supported Obama in 2008.

“Seriously??? Why is a Democratic president going out of his way to help Republicans cut Social Security??? That's just wrong,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal PAC with more than 700,000 members, said in a message to supporters.

The group is amassing signatures on a pledge that it plans to present to the Obama campaign, threatening to withhold support during the 2012 campaign. So far, more than 160,000 have signed, according to the PCCC.

The pledge reads: “President Obama: If you cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits for me, my family, or families like mine, don't ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012. I'm going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates who will fight to protect our Democratic legacy."

Last week, several top labor union leaders preemptively warned the president on consenting to cuts or changes to entitlement programs, including Social Security.

“At a time when retirement security remains an elusive goal for most Americans, cuts to Social Security benefits — in whatever form they take — should not be on the table,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a statement. Trumka has previously said his group would hold Obama and Democrats to account in 2012.

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, echoed that view: “Social Security has not added one penny to our deficit and should not be targeted as a means toward reaching a deal,” she said.

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