WASHINGTON -- Liberal groups angered by President Barack Obama’s proposed Social Security cuts say they’ll take a page from conservatives’ campaign playbook and work to oust Democratic lawmakers who go along with the plan.
The revolt within Obama’s political base and a related divide in his party may complicate the president’s mission when Congress returns to Washington next week to settle the budget and meet a looming deadline, May 18, for raising the federal debt ceiling.
As part of his budget plan now before Congress, Obama wants to slow the inflation calculator for Social Security benefits and payments to some military veterans, their survivors and college students. He’s also asking affluent Americans to pay higher Medicare premiums.
The biggest impact would be on the country’s 57 million Social Security recipients, the beneficiaries of a New Deal program that Democratic icon Franklin D. Roosevelt launched during his Depression-era presidency.
The early reaction to his proposed revisions for Social Security and Medicare suggests that before Obama can sell the plan to Republicans as part of a new budget accord, he’ll face a more difficult task of selling it to his base.
Prominent liberal activists – among them groups, such as MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, that helped Obama gain re-election in November – view his willingness to reduce future Social Security payments as a betrayal of core Democratic commitments to help the needy and ease the burdens of old age.
The groups are vowing to run primary challengers against Democratic members of Congress who back the president’s controversial quest.
“Social Security is a key part of the Democratic legacy and a vital lifeline to millions of Americans,” Stephanie Taylor, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told McClatchy on Thursday. “Any Democrat who votes for such a plan should be ready for a primary challenge.”
The liberal activists’ strategy of targeting recalcitrant Democrats mirrors the tactics of anti-spending groups such as the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth, which in recent years have financed the primary foes of incumbent Republican lawmakers they thought were too weak on slashing government programs.
Leaders of the counter-initiative have delivered more than 2 million petitions to Obama, staged protests outside the White House and the San Francisco office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and run TV and newspaper ads.
The Obama proposals are a nod to Republicans who’ve said they’d consider increasing tax revenues only in tandem with significant entitlement revisions.
Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are among a handful of key Republican lawmakers who praised Obama for making a politically risky move that puts him at odds with important supporters.
“The president is showing a little leg here,” Graham told NBC last month. “He has sort of made a step forward in the entitlement-reform process that would allow a guy like me to begin talking about flattening the tax code and generating more revenue.”
The liberal groups’ warnings to Democratic lawmakers may explain why some prominent congressional Democrats who usually are strong Obama allies are breaking with him over entitlement revisions.