Medicare and Medicaid savings should be part of future debt-reduction efforts, but not on the table in talks regarding the impending " fiscal cliff," the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate said.
In the prepared remarks of Sen. Richard Durbin's speech today to the liberal Center for American Progress, he writes that progressives cannot "pretend" the programs can "continue forever" without changes to ensure their solvency. But the majority whip from Illinois insists that any adjustments should come after the immediate budget is passed.
"Progressives should be willing to talk about ways to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," it reads. "But those conversations should not be part of a plan to avert the fiscal cliff."
During the event, the Illinois lawmaker skipped over that section of his notes, which were released to the media, but told reporters that he stood by every word.
"We can't be so naive as to believe that just taxing the rich is going to solve our problems," he told the crowd, adding that his caucus needed to be open to issues "painful and hard for us to talk about."
Durbin said he continued to be opposed to some conservative proposals, including voucher programs for Medicare and a block-grant system for Medicaid. But he also maintained he's wary of raising the eligibility age for the safety-net programs, for fear of creating coverage gaps. President Obama floated that idea last year.
The statements offer a window into what might be congressional Democrats' proverbial "line in the sand" as each party sharpens their negotiating teams. Both sides must reach a budget agreement by Dec. 31, or else trigger the $607 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts economists agree would plunge the economy back into recession.
Some members of Congress see the talks as an opportunity to reduce the national debt, and it has become a central talking point as the deadline draws closer.
Members of both parties discussed cuts to entitlement programs earlier this month in a meeting with Obama as a way to bring about deficit reduction. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the sum total of US entitlement programs - including Social Security - make up a projected 62.4 percent of the federal budget in 2012.