Top Democrats in the U.S. Senate are saying this week that they won't push changes to Social Security as part of a deal to reduce the federal budget deficit.
"We are not going to mess with Social Security," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters as he left a news conference Wednesday, according to Reuters.
During the conference, Reid invited Republicans to "dance" rather than fight over the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- the nickname given a looming expiration of tax cuts and spending cuts that will take effect at the end of the year.
"Everything doesn't have to be a fight -- that's the way it's been the last couple of years," Reid said. "So everyone should comprehend, especially my Senate friends, that legislation is the art of compromise and consensus building."
The Social Security program, which provides benefits to 40 million American seniors, will run a shortfall in 2033, so lawmakers will eventually need either to reduce benefits or increase taxes to keep it solvent. But the program's finances are counted separately from the rest of the federal budget, meaning its costs don't add to the deficit. That's why AARP, the seniors lobbying group, wants Congress to leave Social Security out of fiscal cliff negotiations.
On Thursday, one of Reid's top lieutenants, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), echoed Reid's opposition to including Social Security in budget talks. He noted that when President Barack Obama's deficit commission co-chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, crafted a package of budget fixes, they said Social Security should be tweaked for its own sake, not to reduce the deficit.
"I agree with Leader Reid. Social Security -- even when Simpson-Bowles included it in their package, they didn't add it to deficit reduction, because any changes you make in Social Security that bring in revenue stay in the Social Security system," Schumer said during a breakfast meeting with reporters. "So I think that while Social Security has to be reformed and saved, the need is less immediate than with Medicare and Medicaid. And I think it is better to treat the two separately."
Bowles, for his part, said in an op-ed Wednesday that Congress should include Social Security in any near-term budget deal.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the leader of Congress' lower chamber, suggested on Wednesday that Republicans would be willing to work on a deal with Democrats to avoid the cliff.