In a February 22 editorial in USA Today, Lew said the retirement program's trust fund will have adequate resources to pay full benefits to retirees for the next 26 years, that the nation's debt "problem is not Social Security" and that strengthening the program should be handled separately.

Speaking to NDN, a Democratic-leaning advocacy group, Furman said talk of a Social Security overhaul "is not one you care about" if "you are worried about our long-run fiscal future." He said the program is "the bedrock of retirement security" and solvent for another 26 years, until 2037.

The Lew editorial and Furman comments were buttressed by comments last weekend by the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, who served on Obama's deficit commission.

"I was stunned, I really thought we were making progress across the board," Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said of the comments. "It seems to me to be the one place where you could actually have a breakthrough. It's so much easier to do than Medicare."

Obama's Call

Experts say ensuring Social Security's solvency may be at least technically simpler than dealing with Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly. For instance, the Social Security Administration projects that 30% of the shortfall over the next 75 years could be prevented by raising the maximum earnings subject to payroll tax by 2% a year until 90% of all earnings are covered.

In his State of the Union speech, Obama called for a "bipartisan solution" to strengthen Social Security "without slashing benefits for future generations."

Durbin, who last year called an increase in the retirement age hardly "radical" and voted for a plan that would also reduce annual cost-of-living gains for all recipients and trim benefits for the wealthy, took a different tack last weekend.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" program on February 20, Durbin said Social Security doesn't add "one penny" to the deficit. He threw his support behind a proposal by former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, a Republican, and Alice Rivlin, a former budget director to President Bill Clinton, that relies more on tax increases to close the program's 75-year shortfall.

Durbin is also part of the bipartisan working group of six senators. Obama and congressional Republicans, who've offered no specifics on how to handle entitlement spending, are looking to the recommendations of the group, Rivlin said.