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Obama urged to protect Social Security

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The battle lines over Social Security are being drawn a day before President Obama delivers a major speech on the nation's long-term fiscal dilemma.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Obama, a group of over 250 academics, policy experts and economists argued that Social Security does not contribute to the federal deficit and that shortfalls "should be eliminated without cutting benefits, including without raising the retirement age."

Another group, the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, sent a letter to the President urging him to not even introduce the subject. "Social Security should not be part of deficit discussions or any deficit package or process," the letter said.

Obama is widely expected to outline on Wednesday his plan to reduce long-term deficits in a speech in Washington, and many worry that Social Security could get a haircut.

The push to protect the program is just one component in a broader fight between Democrats and Republicans in Washington about how to put the nation back on a path towards fiscal sustainability.

It comes days after Congress approved an 11th hour plan to fund the government, as they narrowly averted a shutdown. But bigger legislative issues remain unresolved, including a proposal to lift the nation's$14 trillion debt ceiling.

Supporters say Social Security is an independent, self-financing program that has no authority to borrow, and therefore cannot deficit spend. But critics say the program is already adding to the shortfall because the federal government must issue new debt to pay back money it borrowed from the Social Security trust fund.

Regardless, both sides generally agree that Social Security needs to be reformed as the nation's population gets older and the number of Americans collecting benefits outpaces the amount of money flowing into the system.

In December, President Obama's bipartisan debt commission recommended, among other things, steps to make Social Security solvent over 75 years.

The plan would reduce initial benefits for wealthier retirees. And it would offer less generous annual cost-of-living adjustments for all retirees.

Among the more controversial recommendations: The plan would slowly usher in an increase in the retirement age from 67 to 68 by 2050 and to 69 by 2075. Over the same period, the early retirement age would increase gradually from 62 to 64. Those who are unable to work past age 62 would be offered "hardship exemptions." To top of page

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