As Ryan budget debate heats up, survey finds Coloradans oppose any threat to Social Security

Across the political spectrum, Coloradans strongly oppose cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit, according to a poll released today (pdf) and conducted by Lake Research Partners. The poll was commissioned by Social Security advocate groups that are sounding alarms about Republican proposals to deeply cut into entitlement programs to attack the deficit. What’s getting lost in the rhetoric around the budget, the groups say, is that Social Security doesn’t contribute a dime to the deficit yet the Republican budget plan nevertheless opens the program up to cuts. More significant, they say, is that the GOP plan to cut Medicare benefits through privatization will eat up ever larger portions of seniors’ Social Security income.

“Social Security is not linked to the deficit. It’s just not true. Not one penny,” Josh Rosenblum of Strengthen Social Security told the Colorado Independent. “But there’s a lot of talk about the deficit… so we asked Coloradans: ‘Would you support cutting Social Security to lower the deficit?’ The answer was no.”

Lake Research pollsters found that 71 percent of likely Colorado voters oppose cutting Social Security benefits to reduce the federal deficit. That includes 53 percent of Tea Party supporters, 61 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents and 83 percent of Democrats.

The pollsters report that the issue of Social Security as tied to the budget could decide House races.

Over six in ten Colorado voters say they would be less likely to vote for a House candidate who supports cutting benefits to reduce the deficit, including nearly six in ten voters in every region of the state.

…51 percent of independents and 49 percent of those who are undecided in the generic 2012 House ballot indicate they would be much less likely to vote for a candidate who supports cutting Social Security benefits to reduce the deficit. Thirty percent of those polled said they were undecided in 2012 House contests.

“More than 630,000 Coloradans receive Social Security and nearly half of them are lifted out of poverty by the program’s modest benefits,” said Alliance for Retired Americans activist Vivian Stovall in a release that announced the poll results.

Social Security has always had its own revenue stream and the government is prohibited from borrowing to bolster the program. The result is that Social Security has never been tied to the larger federal budget and so has been largely protected from annual budget wrangling and partisan face-offs.

Ryan’s plan doesn’t list specific cuts to Social Security but, as Rosenblum and others have pointed out, the plan endorsed unanimously by Republican members of the House cuts $1.7 billion from the program’s administrative budget.

Also, according to Daniel Marans of Social Security Works, Ryan’s plan does expose program benefits to direct cuts by turning Social Security into a regular line-item on the federal budget. So far, the public hasn’t been told a lot about why Ryan has proposed this change.

Marans warns that if the balance of the Social Security fund dips below a certain amount, trustees of the program are forced by laws already on the books to ask Congress either to increase taxes or to reduce Social Security benefits. Marans said this requirement would be heated up under the Ryan plan and, as anyone tuned into U.S. politics in the last fifty years knows, raising taxes for anything– including revenue-gushing decade-long wars– has become a non-starter for American politicians. It seems inevitable that Social Security benefits would soon be placed on the chopping block.

As Marans put it, “projections of Social Security’s solvency change every year, which means that Ryan’s plan could force big changes to Social Security based on very short-term variations in the program’s finances.”

The battle over Ryan’s Medicare voucher program has already heated up. This week a handful of GOP U.S. Senators voted against the budget to help Democrats defeat it, and some election watchers are saying that distaste for Ryan’s Medicare plan was key in flipping New York’s special election House seat from Republican to Democrat.

Colorado freshmen Republican Reps Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton have both endorsed the Ryan plan and championed its Medicare privatization program.

If this poll is any indication, the battle over Medicare will pale in comparison to any similar clash over Social Security.

Lake Research surveyed 502 likely voters between March 3 and March 7. The survey has a +/- 4.4 percent margin of error . The poll was paid for by Strengthen Social Security Campaign, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation, and the Alliance for Retired Americans.

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