WASHINGTON — The chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee tried hard Wednesday to flip Republicans from supporters of chained CPI — the mechanism used in President Obama’s budget to cut Social Security benefits — into opponents. By Thursday morning, however, it appeared he was all alone in the plot.
Rep. Dave Camp, a top Republican budget leader in the House, refused to go along with NRCC chair Greg Walden’s criticism of chained CPI, making him the latest Republican to bail on Walden’s entitlement messaging.
“I think the president made a step forward on entitlements reform in his budget and I welcome that step forward with chained CPI,” Camp told BuzzFeed when asked about Walden’s comments at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “So I think that is the beginning of a potential discussion of how we make programs like Social Security and Medicare sustainable for future generations.”
Obama added the entitlement cuts to his budget plan as an olive branch to Republicans, who White House officials believe will eventually come to the bargaining table if Democrats woo them hard enough. Chained CPI is an idea long favored by Republican leaders. It’s also despised by Obama’s progressive base, who say any cuts to entitlement benefits consitute breaking the promise of Social Security and penalizing America’s most vulnerable.
On Wednesday, Walden tried to co-opt some of that progressive messaging, aiming to turn chained CPI into a cudgel Republicans can wield on the congressional campaign trail in 2014.
“You’re trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors and I just think it’s not the right way to go,” Walden told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer when asked about chained CPI.
This was a dramatic shift from what most Republican leaders say about chained CPI and if it was a political move by Walden it was a Machiavellian one. Democrats immediately cried foul, and accused Republicans of flipping on an issue they used to support as soon as Obama came out in favor of it.
But Camp, the chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said he’s taking Obama’s offer of chained CPI in good faith and is ready to engage with the White House on something both he and the president agree on. Camp seems to favor doing the entitlement changes right away, something Obama has said won’t happen. The president wants to trade chained CPI for increased taxes. Still, Camp was favorable to Obama’s budget when it came to entitlements, showing no signs of changing his tune the way Democrats warned Republicans might.
“First of all, the president came to the Republican conference and I was able to ask him a question. And i brought up the issue of entitlements. And I said in areas where we agree, like chained CPI, combining A and B in Medicare…let’s just do it,” Camp told BuzzFeed. “And the president, I thought gave a very good response to that exchange that we had. So now the president’s put that in his budget, these are things that obviously we’re discussing.”
“I think it is a positive step forward for the president to offer chained CPI in his budget and I’m going to continue to look at this issue,” he said.
Meanwhile, conservatives are starting to scold Walden for his comments. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post called on Republicans to “muzzle” the NRCC chair and, indeed, other Republican leaders praised the inclusion of chained CPI in Obama’s budget (though they were skeptical of the budget overall and once again rejected Obama’s call for new revenues.)
For the moment Walden appears to be sticking to his guns on chained CPI.