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'Fiscal cliff': Can a liberal senator sell entitlement reform to Democrats?

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Liberal groups have fought back, leaving progressives like Durbin in a strange spot. His tenure in the trenches negotiating an encompassing framework for cutting America’s debt and deficits in part through entitlement changes stretches back to the original presidential commission on debt in 2010 (whose output became known as the Simpson-Bowles plan) and on through the bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators who strove to hammer out a compromise plan right up to the November election.

On Tuesday, he argued that liberals risked having their views ignored if they hewed to promises to never touch entitlements or other government programs dear to Democrats.

“We have to look to reform and change that is significant, that preserves many of the values and programs that brought us to political life,” Sen. Durbin said. “We cannot believe that merely ignoring these programs or not engaging is going to solve the problem.”

Specifically, Durbin argued that those who love Medicare need to reckon with its future solvency – or lack thereof.

“Untouched, unamended, Medicare is going to run out of money in 12 years,” he said. “That is scary because we have so many Americans who count on it.”

He took a hard line with those in his party who would load the issue of deficit reduction solely onto the wealthy.

“We can’t be so naive as to believe that just taxing the rich is going to solve our problems,” Durbin said.

However, Durbin rejected outright Republican proposals to turn the future of Social Security and Medicare over to the private sector. And Social Security in particular should not be a part of debt reduction discussions at all, Durbin said, with its future solvency handled as part of a different reform effort.

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