WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) — Liberal U.S. senators challenged President Obama over his readiness to cut entitlement benefits, as the president prepared to meet with House Republicans.
“I think he is more inclined to cut benefits, which I strongly disagree with,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., said after leaving a 90-minute, closed-door Senate Democratic Caucus meeting with Obama on Capitol Hill that focused a lot on Social Security and Medicare benefits.
The meeting also dealt with immigration policy, drones and cybersecurity, Senate attendees said.
Sanders and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told Obama they opposed his willingness to consider adopting “chained CPI” — a less generous formula for adjusting benefits under Social Security and other programs for inflation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ chained CPI, or a chained consumer price index, is not used by Washington but has increasingly been discussed as a reform because many economists say it better measures inflation than the currently used CPI index.
It tweaks the inflation formula slightly but results in big savings over the long run, perhaps more than $100 billion over a decade, The Washington Post reported.
It also reduces the federal deficit through a combination of spending cuts and increased revenues.
Obama has said he is open to chained CPI as part of a “grand bargain” that would include spending cuts as well as new revenue.
And he didn’t back down from that position during Tuesday’s meeting, those in attendance said — a position that raised the hackles of the caucus’ liberal wing, especially Harkin and Sanders.
“My point and Bernie Sanders’ point was when you’re talking about entitlements — Social Security and Medicare — there’s more than one way to solve that problem,” Harkin told reporters.
He said Obama’s response was that “things were open for negotiation” but that he wanted to reach a grand bargain.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Obama “thinks it’s very important that we solve these problems together and he said that working together with Republicans in terms of getting a grand bargain or a major dent in this issue [of cutting the deficit] is critically important.
“But compromise is essential and he hasn’t seen enough of it from them, but he’s also going to continue trying,” Levin said.
Obama was to meet with the House Republican Conference at 1:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday and with House Democrats and Senate Republicans in separate meetings Thursday.
Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).