In recent years, congressional Republicans have had one specific demand as part of any debt-reduction talks: “chained CPI.” The basic idea is that Democrats are supposed to accept a change to how Social Security benefits are calculated, relying on a less-generous Consumer Price Index (CPI) to save money.
For Republicans, if Democrats aren’t willing to consider this policy, there’s no point in even having a conversation. It’s not the only provision the GOP expects as part of a deal, but it’s the one non-negotiable starting point for any conversation.
And so, centrist and conservative Democrats have generally been quick to align themselves with Republicans on this issue, eager to prove their bipartisan bona fides and commitment to “fiscal responsibility.” For their trouble, these Dems are now facing a rather ugly betrayal at the hands those they’re trying to please. Lori Montgomery reported the other day:
The latest attack came in Georgia, where the National Republican Campaign Committee posted an ad last week accusing Rep. John Barrow (D) of “leaving Georgia seniors behind” by supporting “a plan that would raise the retirement age to 69 while cutting Social Security benefits.”Crossroads GPS, the conservative nonprofit group founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove, has run similar ads against North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D), Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (D) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). Crossroads accused Hagan of supporting a “controversial plan” that “raises the retirement age.”
Just so we’re clear, what we have here is Republicans condemning Democrats for agreeing with Republicans. When the Washington Post asked Crossroads and the NRCC for comment, neither would defend their campaign messages.
Part of the issue here is “chained CPI,” which Republicans now consider “cutting Social Security benefits,” even though Republicans are the ones who’ve demanded Democrats accept this as part of a fiscal deal.
The other part is the Simpson/Bowles report, a fairly conservative deficit-reduction plan, which conservatives pushed Democrats to support. When some Dems offered tepid praise for their proposal, they found themselves attacked by the same Republicans who urged them to endorse the plan.
The irony, of course, is rich. This is supposed to be a great year for Republicans, but to get ahead, the GOP believes the best way to win is to attack Democrats for being too conservative.
But the larger takeaway is the lesson for Democrats: centrist, red-state Dems who think they can inoculate themselves by working with Republicans are in for a rude awakening: Democrats who adopt Republican positions inevitably face a ridiculous betrayal. Conservative Dems may assume that the GOP couldn’t attack them for agreeing with Republicans, but those assumptions are belied by reality – the 2014 attack ads prove that coherence is not a prerequisite to far-right campaigning.
These ads may prove effective for voters who don’t know better, but if these Democrats prevail, they’ll no longer have an incentive to work in good faith with Republicans towards a compromise. They won’t be able to reach across the aisle – they’ll be too busy trying to pull the GOP knives from their backs.