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Fiscal Cliff: House Democrats Close Ranks Against Social Security Cuts

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Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Tuesday that Social Security cuts should not be part of any deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."

Van Hollen's comments, which came during an interview with MSNBC's Tamron Hall, reveal that Democratic leaders in the House are closing ranks behind Senate leadership against cuts to the retirement program.

"With respect to Social Security, I agree with what the president has said and what [Rep.] Peter DeFazio said. Social Security is not part of the deficit and debt problem. We're not going to raid Social Security in order to balance other parts of the budget," Van Hollen said.

Social Security does not contribute to the federal budget deficit. It is funded by payroll taxes, and currently enjoys a $2.7 trillion surplus, enough to fund the program without any changes until 2033.

Van Hollen is a top-ranking deputy for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), but has often taken hawkish positions on government spending and deficit reduction. His explicit objection to cutting Social Security benefits as part of any fiscal cliff deal follows similar comments from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). In mid-November, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other progressive senators including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) held a press conference advocating against Social Security cuts.

"I do not often quote Ronald Reagan," Sanders said at the time. "This is what Ronald Reagan said on Oct. 7, 1984. 'Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. Social Security is totally funded by the payroll tax ... if you reduce the outflow of Social Security, that money would not go into the general fund to reduce the deficit.' End of quote, Ronald Reagan -- which goes to show you, anybody can be right at least once."

Earlier on Tuesday, Van Hollen told Fox News that raising the eligibility age for Medicare was not an effective way to lower the system's long-term costs. Escalating domestic health care costs, which are much higher than those of other developed nations, are a key driver of the long-term U.S. budget deficit. Many progressive lawmakers and economists have advocated to make Medicare more efficient, rather than simply cutting benefits to recipients. Since low-income citizens generally live shorter lives than wealthier citizens, raising the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 from 65 would disproportionately harm the poor. Reining in the health care system's costs, however, involves taking on politically powerful corporations on Capitol Hill, including the pharmaceutical industry.

"Moving [Medicare] from 65 to 67 is, again, not reducing costs in Medicare," Van Hollen told Fox. "It's not really reforming the Medicare system … there are a lot better ways of doing it."

Van Hollen reiterated that point on MSNBC.

"With respect to health care, what we've said is we oppose the Republican approach, which is simply to transfer rising health care costs onto the backs of seniors. What we should do and can do is build on the Affordable Care Act, where we found savings within the health care system by changing the incentive structures, by modernizing the system."

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