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.
Boehner said that he had spoken with Rep. Greg Walden, Ore., the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who on Wednesday criticized “chained CPI,” a part of Obama’s 2014 budget which changes how Social Security benefits are calculated to grow over time.
Walden has fallen under increased scrutiny from conservatives, who have threatened a primary challenge, along with Democrast who wish to cast the House GOP leadership as mired in discord.
"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."
Walden, speaking Wednesday on CNN, was sharply critical of the chained CPI proposal contained with President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget.
“Well, once again, you're trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors and I just think it's not the right way to go,” he said. “I don't see this budget as either on time, adding up, balancing, and, further, I think it really does go right at seniors in a way they're going to be shocked, coming out of the administration.”
The problem for Walden, however, was that the chained CPI proposal was included as an enticement of Republicans, who have clamored for any sort of entitlement reform from the White House. Moreover, Obama’s decision to include such a concession – which would essentially amount to a cut in benefits, over time, for seniors – angered progressive supporters of the president.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday noted that the chained CPI proposal in Obama’s budget came “at the specific request of behest of Republican leaders and represent a “cynical attempt to disown a proposal that came from Republican leaders.”
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The NRCC chairman’s comments drew the ire of many fellow conservatives, and in short order.
"Greg Walden ought to think about clarifying his remarks on chained CPI, and think about clarifying soon," said Chris Chocola, the president of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth.
But when he did offer a clarifying statement, Walden doubled down on his original sentiment.
“Chairman Walden supports the budget passed by House Republicans that preserves and protects Medicare and Social Security while also balancing the budget in 10 years,” said an NRCC spokesperson. “He disagrees with President Obama's political plan that hurts current seniors just so he can pay for more wasteful spending."
Walden’s difference with fellow Republicans, however, illustrates Republicans’ difficulty in handling the politics of entitlement issues in recent years.
Mitt Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, for instance were sharply critical of the $716 billion in Medicare savings contained within Obama’s health care reform law, and vowed to restore the cuts if elected. But Ryan’s subsequent budget this year, in his capacity as chairman of the House Budget Committee, counts those very cuts in Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and reinsurers toward balancing the budget.
Moreover, Ryan’s budgets for the past three years – which Republicans have generally supported in overwhelming fashion – have called for sweeping changes to Medicare, namely by transforming it into a private marketplace in which the government would provide a voucher (or “premium support” payment) to seniors to buy insurance for themselves.
Democrats eagerly used those Medicare proposals against Republicans in the election of 2012, further cementing entitlement programs’ reputation as a “third rail” in politics, which politicians should not touch, or risk political peril.