Entitlement reform may offer an area of compromise on the fiscal cliff, but Bernie Sanders is having none of it.
The independent Vermont senator, who has described himself as a "democratic socialist," is widely regarded as the most liberal member of the Democratic caucus. In a speech today at the National Press Club, Sanders offered his take on fiscal-cliff negotiations: Don't cut social programs, at all.
"We have CEOs from Wall Street making millions of dollars a year, coming to Washington and saying we're gonna have to cut not only Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid - we're gonna have to cut benefits for disabled veterans," Sanders said. "Let 'em take that argument to the American people."
Sanders took particular aim at two options that have been proffered as middle grounds: raising the Medicare eligibility age by two years and calculating inflation differently. The latter idea, swapping the current consumer price index (CPI) for the .3-percent-smaller "chained CPI," would affect multiple entitlements, including Social Security and veterans' benefits.
Democrats are being asked to consider entitlement reforms as part of a deficit-reduction plan to avoid automatic cuts set for the end of the year. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., appeared at the Center for American Progress last week to ask progressives to consider cuts as part of a compromise.
"We can't be so naive as to believe that just taxing the rich is going to solve our problems," Durbin said in his speech there last Tuesday. At the National Press Club, Sanders offered a progressive counterpoint.
"We have got to stand tall and say that, in the middle of this recession, we've got 50 million people who have no health insurance at all. We ain't gonna cut Medicare. We're not gonna throw children off of Medicaid," Sanders aid to a small, half-filled room at the Press Club on Monday.
"And yes, despite all of the power that our friends on Wall Street have, and the fact that they own many of the politicians here in Washington, some of us are gonna stand with working families, low-income families, disabled veterans and senior citizens."
Sanders proposed allowing the high-income Bush tax cuts to expire, eliminating corporate tax loopholes, ending tax breaks and subsidies for oil companies, cutting Pentagon spending and allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices.