11/12/2010 06:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Social Security Advocates Slam Debt Commission's 'Regressive' Proposal, Join Bernie Sanders In Crafting Progressive Alternative

WASHINGTON -- Social Security advocates have been quick to come out against the proposal released Wednesday by the co-chairs of President Barack Obama's debt commission. At the National Press Club Friday, John Rother, executive vice president for policy at AARP, said the plan was "really regressive and not the way to keep health care affordable for people going forward."

The draft report introduced by former Bill Clinton adviser Erskine Bowles and former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), would cut Social Security and Medicare, among other things.

Eric Kingson of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, has called the draft report "an equal opportunity disaster," which -- beyond cutting benefits for today's seniors and persons with disabilities -- "cuts Social Security benefits for virtually every American alive today and yet to be born."

Rother indicated his group would oppose the plan because it would dramatically reduce benefits in Social Security and Medicare over time. "You cannot deal with the deficit without dealing too with health care long-term," Rother said Friday, in response to a question from HuffPost.

"I do object to the specific proposals they make," Rother added, "particularly ones that would just cost-shift more onto beneficiaries, because that doesn't do anything to lower the burden of heath care and the economy, it just shifts who pays from taxpayers onto sick people."

Rother's views are in line with those of AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond: "During these tough economic times, the last thing we should be considering is targeting the guaranteed, inflation-protected Social Security benefits that millions of Americans count on every day," she said in a statement Wednesday.

The debt commission needs 14 of its 18 members to agree on a plan before it can receive an up or down vote from Congress. A final draft is due on Dec. 1, but so far, finding consensus within the commission looks like a long shot.

In a recent interview with HuffPost, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), one of 18 members of the commission, criticized what she described as the commission's "right-leaning plan." And on Friday Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced he will work with seniors' organizations and other groups to develop "progressive alternatives" to the Bowles-Simpson proposal. In particular, Sanders takes aim at Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy and tax credits for big oil companies.

"We all know that there are a number of fair and progressive ways to address the deficit crisis that would not harm the middle class and those who have already lost their jobs, homes, life savings and ability to send their kids to college," Sanders said in a statement Friday. "The time has come to put these proposals into a package so that the progressive view becomes a part of the national discussion."

Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs told HuffPost in an email Friday night that their office had already received several responses from groups on board with the effort, including Social Security Works.

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