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On Social Security and Medicare, Color Them Purple

The nation may be divided between red Republicans and blue Democrats, but when it comes to Social Security and Medicare for older Americans, it's downright purple.

A majority of older Americans - Democrats, Republicans and independents - say that neither Social Security nor Medicare should be part of a year-end budget deal.

That's from a survey of Americans age 50 and older conducted for AARP by pollster Woelfel Research just after last week's election.

Congress and President Obama are heading into negotiations on how to reduce the federal deficit and avoid the "fiscal cliff" - a round of automatic budget cuts and tax hikes that will hit at the beginning of the year. Here are five findings from the survey (which has a margin of error of 3.5 percent) that could play into the negotiations.

-  More than two-thirds of older Americans (67 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of Democrats and independents) say that any changes in Medicare and Social Security should be part of a separate debate, not mixed in with the larger deficit and budget negotiations.

-  About three-fourths of older Americans oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits to reduce the budget deficit.

-  Of the issues likely to come up during a lame-duck session of Congress, extending tax cuts for middle-income taxpayers drew the most support (74 percent) from those surveyed. Slightly less than half said they favor across-the-board tax cuts. Republicans have pushed to extend the tax cuts for everyone, arguing that it's important for the economy, while Democrats have pushed to limit the tax-cut extension to middle-income taxpayers. That difference is likely to be a flashpoint of the negotiations.

-  Extending the law that provides extra unemployment benefits drew support from 56 percent of those surveyed, while preventing reductions in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients drew support from 46 percent.

-  One area where partisan loyalties sharply divided the respondents was in whether President Obama has provided enough details on his plans for Medicare and Social Security. More than three-quarters of Democrats felt they had enough information, but fewer than one in five Republicans did.

Despite the preferences of older Americans, the possible prospect of a fifth consecutive $1 trillion federal budget deficit is likely to fuel talks of wrapping Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid into a large budget deal.

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