Responding to Republican demands, President Obama announced this week he’s willing to consider the controversial chained-CPI policy for Social Security, as part of a larger compromise. It’s a Republican policy, but the White House will grudgingly accept it in exchange for GOP concessions.
For his trouble, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who’ll oversee his party’s 2014 midterm efforts, accused Obama of waging “a shocking attack on seniors,” and “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors.”
This created some, shall we say, ambiguity. Are Republicans opposed to the Republican idea? Should the White House stop offering Republicans what they say they want? Is this poised to become the latest example of the GOP rejecting their own proposals – cap-and-trade, Dream Act, EITC, payroll tax cut, etc. – the moment Obama agrees with them?
It’s a tension in need of resolution, and this afternoon, the party took a step in that direction.
House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio, publicly distanced himself on Thursday from another member of his Republican leadership team who criticized a component of President Barack Obama’s budget having to do with entitlement reform. […]
“I’ve made it clear that I disagree with what Chairman Walden said,” Boehner said at his weekly press conference, calling the chained CPI proposal “the least we must do to begin to solve the problem of Social Security.”
“I disagree with” isn’t exactly an overpowering condemnation, but it at least brings some clarity to the matter. Indeed, I’d argue Boehner really didn’t have much of a choice on this – either the House GOP wants this policy or it doesn’t. I don’t imagine the Speaker is fond of giving Obama cover, but if he wants to be taken seriously at all, Boehner can’t ask for a concession, then allow his party to condemn it when the president says yes.
In the meantime, it appears the White House saw Walden’s interview yesterday, was eager to go further than Boehner’s tepid disagreement.
Indeed, press secretary Jay Carney seemed almost angry about this.
“This is a Republican proposal,” Carney said Thursday. “And cynical attempts to make it otherwise by some represent, I think, dissonance within the Republican Party, and we’ve seen plenty of condemnation from conservatives and Republicans of that sort of flagrantly ridiculous and cynical attempt to disown a proposal that emanated from Republican leaders.” […]
“The inclusion of entitlement reform, specifically chained CPI and means testing of Medicare, comes at the specific behest and request of Republican leaders, as you know,” Carney said.
And in a curious twist, the far-right Club for Growth is also angry with Walden, not because he took a cheap shot at the White House, but because his criticism of chained-CPI mirror liberal criticism of the idea.
“Greg Walden doesn’t seriously oppose even the most modest of reforms to Social Security, right?” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said. “With nearly $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, the last thing Republicans should attack the Democrats for is for making the most minor reforms to our entitlement programs.”
For the record, in case substance still matters, chained-CPI isn’t necessarily “minor” – for many retirees, it may mean a significant cut in benefits – and it addresses a problem that doesn’t really exist. Social Security’s finances are largely fine, and can be shored up completely through modest tweaks. It’s one of the things about the policy that’s so frustrating – Obama is trying to give Republicans something they want in the hopes of striking a deal, but there’s no good reason for Republicans to want this in the first place.
Regardless, Walden seems to have created quite a mess for himself and his party.