Debt ceiling 2013: Progressives rally against potential entitlement cuts

Photo: The Associated Press

House Republicans want talks over deficit reduction and the Affordable Care Act, but President Obama insists he won't negotiate until Congress ends the government shutdown and extends the debt limit.

But whenever and however the standoff over the shutdown ends, some progressives are worried about a dirty word in Washington lately: compromise.

Most political observers believe, eventually, negotiations between the two sides are inevitable – maybe even a so-called "grand bargain” could come to fruition.

If so, many progressives are concerned something called a “chained consumer price index," or CPI, could be on the table, changing the way Social Security benefits are calculated. Essentially, cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security would be lower over time, which opponents consider a cut in benefits.

“I'm a federal retiree, said Elaine Hughes, national secretary for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “These are the things that we worked for our entire careers. I worked 32 careers for the federal government. We were never told that we would have a decrease in our [cost-of-living adjustments] or our retirement benefits.”

Groups representing seniors, retired veterans and retired federal workers say there is overwhelming opposition to a chained CPI. But at their Capitol Hill rally Wednesday afternoon, only two dozen protesters showed up.

For many Americans, the issue is abstract and complicated.

But when asked if that messaging challenge gives Republicans a political advantage in the debate over a chained CPI, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said no. “If we explain this [to Americans] as a benefit cut, everybody gets it,” she said.

Meanwhile, in the Wall Street Journal, Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) called on President Obama to negotiate a debt-ceiling deal with Republicans.

"To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country's entitlement programs and tax code,” he wrote.

For example, Ryan wrote, “We could ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare... and we could ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement."

But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) strongly rejects Ryan’s opinion.

“He's talking about, ‘Okay, we'll give in. All you have to do is cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. And you know what? Maybe then we'll re-open the government after, by the way, you gave us our budget.' That is unacceptable,” Sanders said.

These progressive lawmakers and protesters say they're directing their message at House Republicans. But they’re also focused on the White House.

After all, in past negotiations, the President has endorsed the concept of a chained CPI, but only if Republicans were willing to offer up new revenues.