Dick Durbin and the Fiscal Cliff: Two Ways of Looking at the Same Speech

What did Illinois’s senator and the Senate Majority Whip say about Social Security, Medicare, and entitlement cuts with regards to a grand bargain? It depends on who you ask.

I was a bit surprised to see this from Dick Durbin, Illinois’s senior senator and a reliable liberal vote:

How it got written up by the Los Angeles Times’s Lisa Mascaro:

A top Democrat pressured fellow progressives Tuesday to support – rather than fight – a far-reaching budget deal that includes cuts to entitlement programs after resolving the upcoming fiscal cliff.

[snip]

The assistant majority leader’s speech at the influential Center for American Progress comes at a pivotal moment in budget talks between the White House and Congress. Progressive and labor groups have warned President Obama against cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs and to instead focus on raising tax revenue in the administration’s negotiations with congressional Republicans.

Then again:

How’s that work?

Social Security does not contribute to the federal deficit and should not be a part of ongoing negotiations to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday, in a speech billed as a “major address making the progressive case for a bipartisan fiscal cliff deal.”

[snip]

Durbin suggested that a separate commission to study Social Security be formed and charged with making recommendations by the end of 2013, which would then be voted on or amended by Congress.

Cuts? Er:

During his talk, he also said he was open to reforms that extended the solvency of the programs without harming beneficiaries.

Asked by HuffPost if the senator opposed any and all cuts that would hit beneficiaries, Max Gleischman, a Durbin spokesman, said that Durbin “believes we should protect the vast majority of current beneficiaries. … His position is that we ought to discuss making small changes to programs to ensure their long-term viability.”

They’re sort of saying the same thing: Durbin doesn’t want to negotiate over Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid right now, but he does want to negotiate over future negotiations. The emphasis makes a big difference, though. It’s ok, the Gang of Six was confused, too. Here’s Durbin, clarifying (or not).

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