By Mike Lillis
Republicans critical of President Obama for excluding a previously proposed Social Security cut from his latest budget bill have only themselves to blame, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) charged Monday.
Hoyer said Obama had floated the controversial “chained CPI” provision last year to bring Republicans to the table in search of a broad deficit-reduction deal. When GOP leaders balked, Obama had no reason to repeat the experiment this year, Hoyer said.
“He put it on the table,” Hoyer added, “[and] he got no response.”
At issue is a proposal linking future cost-of-living increases in Social Security, among other federal programs, to the so-called chained consumer-price-index (CPI), which would reduce benefits over time.
Over liberal outcries, Obama included that provision in his 2014 budget proposal, released last April, as an olive branch to Republicans, who have long-championed benefit cuts under Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the name of reducing spending and shrinking government.
Although Obama had emphasized that he would consider the chained-CPI provision only as part of a package deal that included tax hikes, many liberal Democrats were nonetheless outraged that he would open the door to cutting seniors benefits.
Obama's 2015 budget bill, unveiled this month, was conspicuously absent the Social Security cut, leading to strong criticisms from GOP leaders.
“This budget is a clear sign this president has given up on any efforts to address our serious fiscal challenges that are undermining the future of our kids and grandkids,” Boehner said in response.
After Obama included the offer in his budget last year, it didn’t lead to serious talks with the GOP.
Indeed, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had announced three months earlier that he would no longer negotiate with Obama on fiscal matters – a nod to conservatives in his conference who were threatening his speakership at the start of the 113th Congress.
Hoyer – a vocal supporter of a budget “grand bargain” to include tax hikes and spending cuts – has long been careful to keep most all options open as he pursues that effort. And he reiterated that cautious position on Monday.
“Everything needs to be on the table,” he said.
Hoyer argues that the only way to reach a deal is to lump all the unpopular provisions into one package. That way all sides will grumble, but they'll also have reason to celebrate – and (perhaps) support the overall bill.
“We need to get to a place where both Democrats and Republicans can say, ‘Yes, there are some things in this we don't like. There are some things we would not do,’” he said.
“There would be 15 percent on each side unhappy,” he added, “[but] 70 percent of Americans would say, ‘Thank heavens they did it.’”
Hoyer cited the 1980s-era negotiations between former GOP President Ronald Reagan and former Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neil (Mass.), two ideological extremes who nonetheless united to forge a 1983 deal on Social Security reforms.
“We got some more revenues for Social Security which Ronald Reagan perhaps did not like,” Hoyer said. “And we got … a net-reduction in benefits” that O'Neil opposed.
“That's the model that we need to follow.”