WASHINGTON—Sen. Richard “Dick” Durbin (D-Ill.) rallied those on the political left to support an agreement on the fiscal cliff Tuesday, outlining a plan that includes entitlement reform but will see Social Security in separate negotiations.
“Progressives cannot afford to stand on the sidelines. … We have to look to reform and change that is significant,” Durbin said, speaking at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. “We can’t be so naïve that just taxing the rich is going to solve our problems.”
According to Durbin, extending Bush-era tax cuts for those earning under $250,000, while letting them expire for the wealthy earning above that was a central tenant of the negotiations.
Republicans to date have stood their ground on extending the Bush tax cuts for all, opting instead to raise revenue by eliminating loopholes and reducing deductions.
But Durbin noted that since the recession, 90 percent of income growth has gone to earners in the top 1 percent, while middle-class incomes have declined.
“Income inequality is the worst it’s been in almost 90 years,” he said.
Liberals should be open to discussion on entitlement reform, according to Durbin, but he softened the suggestion by proposing that Social Security be set apart from the fiscal cliff negotiations.
“I think we should take Social Security off the table for the current fiscal cliff and deficit reduction but be very honest about what we’re going to achieve in the near term,” he said.
Durbin proposed setting up a commission system for Social Security that would provide more in-depth discussion and produce a program of solvency for at least 75 years, subject to congressional approval.
“Small changes made today in Social Security will play out over the long term to buy us solvency for a long period of time,” he said.
“I think we can do it. I hope those of us on the left, on the progressives side, can make a positive contribution.”
— Richard “Dick” Durbin, senator, Illinois
Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, copped flack from the left for supporting the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan and for agreeing to cuts, including entitlement, as part of the failed super committee last year.
Durbin said Tuesday that he believes it is possible to find savings in Medicare, “Savings that will not compromise care and benefits to the beneficiaries but can lead to real efficiencies in the delivery of health care.”
He warned Congress, however, to be careful in making any changes to Medicaid. He noted that in his state, Illinois, Medicaid pays for more than one-half of the births, and that 60 percent of its cost goes toward care for the elderly, frail, and disabled.
Medicaid reforms proposed in the House budget by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) could threaten those vulnerable recipients, according to Durbin.
“My question to him and people on that side is, well, which group that I just mentioned to you do you want to reduce coverage by one-third and what will the consequences be?” he said.
Republicans have insisted that entitlement reform be included in the end-of-year negotiations and have been wary of separate negotiations.
“We’ve been reasonable, even as we’ve remained firm on this point: no tax increases now for promised spending cuts that won’t materialize later,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement Tuesday.
President Obama has proposed a plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, which includes $1.1 trillion in spending cuts that Congress has already agreed to as well as $340 billion in savings from Medicare and Medicaid, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a briefing earlier this month.
“That will be what he brings to the table when he sits down with congressional leaders,” Carney said.
Durbin said that he is optimistic an agreement can be reached and called on liberals to support the process.
“I think we can do it,” he said, adding, “I hope those of us on the left, on the progressives side, can make a positive contribution.”
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