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Why Democrats Must Break With Obama on Social Security Cuts

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A lot of Democrats, many with close ties to the president, are saying the same thing.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat who was one of Obama's earliest and most enthusiastic backers in 2008, did the math: "The current average earned benefit for a 65 year old on Social Security is $17,134. Using chained CPI will result in a $6,000 loss for retirees in the first fifteen years of retirement and adds up to a $16,000 loss over twenty-five years. This change would be devastating to beneficiaries, especially widowed women, more than a third of whom rely on the program for 90% of their income and use every single dollar of the Social Security checks they've earned. This would require the most vulnerable Americans to dig further into their savings to fill the hole left by unnecessary and irresponsible cuts to Social Security."

Ellison's bottom line: "I am committed to standing against any benefit cuts to programs Americans rely on and tying Social Security benefits to chained CPI is a benefit cut."

Joining Ellison in opposition were other House Democrats who played critical roles in getting Obama elected in 2008 and reelected in 2012, including Schakowsky, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Michigan Congressman John Conyers, who says: "Any debt deal that cuts Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits is unacceptable."

For Obama, these voices are significant. He is losing the allies who should be in the forefront of the fight to seal any deal he reaches with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Without a solid base of Democratic votes in the House and Senate for it, this deal won't be done.

And make no mistake: a fiscal-cliff compromise that compromises Social Security should not be done. Period.

That's the message coming from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which as usual has moved rapidly -- and effectively -- to build mass opposition to a cut that will only happen if Americans are unaware of the threat.

Former US Senator Russ Feingold's group Progressives United has partnered with MoveOn.org and leading progressive groups to develop a "whip count" that names the names of Senate Democrats who are "Weak-Kneed," who are "Part-way there, or Wavering," and who are "Champions" committed to opposing any deal that cuts Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits.

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The president has placed himself in the "Weak-Kneed" camp.

Congressional Democrats should not stumble with him.

As Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon says, "We had an election, and the voters sent a message to Congress to focus on jobs and fairness -- not cutting benefits for people who have worked all their lives and are now making ends meet on fixed incomes. The formula we use to adjust cost-of-living changes for seniors needs to reflect the real costs they face, not the budgetary fantasies of Washington."

No matter who is peddling those fantasies.

Low-income, elderly women will be the hardest hit by benefit cuts. Check out Bryce Covert's coverage here.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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