(Bloomberg News) Obama administration officials are rejecting the idea of making major changes to Social Security as part of a debate over reining in the national debt, a stance that's drawing protests from deficit-cutting advocates.
White House Budget Director Jack Lew and Jason Furman, deputy director of President Barack Obama's National Economic Council, both stressed this week that Social Security isn't facing an immediate funding crisis and should be viewed separately from moves to reduce the federal budget deficit.
Their comments go further than Obama did in his January 25 State of the Union address in erecting a fence around Social Security, signaling a desire to delay any action on the federal retirement program.
"They've dumped a big pot of ice cold water on any embers of Social Security reform," said Chuck Blahous, a Social Security public trustee who headed a commission on the program empaneled by President George W. Bush.
The White House position may also jeopardize a broader bipartisan effort to tackle the national debt. The math for a Social Security fix, which would blend benefit cuts and tax increases for future retirees, could be relatively simple. That's why some Republicans say it could be a starting point for a bipartisan consensus on a debt-reduction bill being negotiated by a group of six senators.
With polls showing that public opposition to benefit reductions runs deep and cuts across parties, few Republicans or Democrats will want to attach their names to a bill that stands little chance of being signed by the president.
The debate over Social Security is taking place as Republicans and Democrats in Congress are deadlocked over spending cuts with a U.S. government shutdown looming. The Republican drive to lower spending will then turn to a debt-reduction package as the U.S. approaches its authorized debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion within a few months.
Separately, aides to the group of six senators working on a plan to address the deficit confirmed that talks are focused more on tackling the rate of growth in Medicare spending than Social Security's long-range shortfall.