Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
As President Obama rolled out his budget proposal today, progressive activists and members of Congress were organizing opposition to the Social Security benefit cuts it contains.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, sent an email to supporters saying she was "shocked" to hear that the President's budget includes so-called chained CPI -- a recalculation of the cost-of-living formula that will mean thousands of dollars of cuts in benefits to seniors, vets, and persons with disabilities. Warren called chained CPI "a fancy way to say 'cut benefits for seniors, the permanently disabled, and orphans.'"
"Our Social Security system is critical to protecting middle class families, and we cannot allow it to be dismantled inch by inch," Warren told supporters.
In a conference call organized by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, co-founders Adam Green and Stephanie Taylor pledged to launch primary challenges against Democrats who vote for a budget bill that includes chained CPI.
"There needs to be accountability in 2014, and we're very serious," said Green. "You cannot call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security cuts."
Progressive member of Congress Alan Grayson, Democrat of Florida, warned that Obama's changes to both Social Security and Medicare benefits in his budget may drag down the whole Democratic Party.
"A Democratic President is proposing cuts to benefits, without receiving anything form the other side ... that undermine the core Democratic accomplishment of the last 50 years," he said.
In addition to chained CPI, Grayson pointed out, the White House budget contains a two-tier approach to Medicare long favored by Republicans that treats new beneficiaries differently from current beneficiaries, imposing means-testing on incomes above $47,000.
"You may recall I lost my election two years ago because Republicans took a shot at convincing the public that ObamaCare was a cut in Medicare," Grayson said. Now, he said, the President is handing the Republicans an issue they can use to win elections.
Polls show big majorities of American voters support protecting Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts.
The PCCC, along with the National Organization for Women, the AFL-CIO, Democracy for America, and MoveOn recently visited the White House to deliver a petition opposing the cuts signed by 2.3 million Americans.
You can still sign the petition at http://no-cuts.com/.
Next week, the same groups that organized the petition drive are holding phone calls and visits to the district offices of members of Congress across the country to express public opposition to Social Security cuts.
"We need people to organize all over the country," said Congressman Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, chair of the Progressive Caucus. "We're going to need you in May. We're going to need you in June. We're going to need you until they cease and desist."
Don't worry about the politics of opposing President Obama, Ellison added.
"This is bigger than Social Security and Medicare -- as big as they are," Ellison added. "They're going after the National Labor Relations Board. They're going after the post office. This is part of the wave that is deconstructing the ladder of opportunity in America."
"Someone had the nerve to tell me, 'Well, it's just a $5 cut per month,'" said Ellison. "If you're making $12,000 a year, $5 is a lot of money."
Cuts to programs that help seniors affect whole families, he added, mentioning a 21-year-old intern in his office whose parents dipped into her college fund to pay health-care expenses for her grandmother.
Thirty-five House members have already pledged to vote against legislation that contains chained CPI.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has described herself as "agnostic" on the issue. Members of the PCCC coalition plan to visit her office next week, along with the offices of Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, who have also said they are open to the chained CPI.
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