Hawkings

'Entitlement Trap' Is Alive and Well on Capitol Hill

It’s been a full two days since Greg Walden, who runs the House GOP’s political arm, derided the Obama budget as a “shocking attack on seniors” — and his fellow Republicans are still working to recover from their gob-smacked whiplash.

It’s no surprise, of course, that the congressman in charge of recruiting and financing GOP candidates in 2014 would have little nice to say about the president’s plan. But the focus of Walden’s criticism was so surprising that many people in both parties assumed he’d misspoken on Wednesday — and would surely row back his comments on Thursday.

But Walden is sticking by the view that Obama should be derided for his embrace of “chained CPI,” the shorthand for changing how the government calculates inflation in order to reduce cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security and some other benefits.

No matter that the proposal would cost the typical senior about $50 next year, and that it is just the sort of modest limit on entitlements that Republicans howl is long overdue, mainly because Democrats starting with Obama haven’t been willing to embrace them. No matter that Walden’s derision of Obama for “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors” is impossible to square with the budget endorsed last month, not only by Walden but also by almost all the fellow Republicans he’s trying to re-elect next year. It would achieve balance by altogether ending federal medical benefits for the elderly under Medicare as an entitlement.

And no matter that he’s made the top leaders of his caucus furious and prompted the prominent conservative Club for Growth to encourage a 2014 primary challenge against Walden in eastern Oregon.

“This is the least we must do to begin to solve the problem of Social Security,” Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday. “Chairman Walden and I have had a conversation, and we’ll leave it at that.”

The head-spinning situation could be laughed off as so much pandering and posturing were Walden another backbench tea partyer or even in that rare camp of GOP House members vulnerable to defeat in a swing district. But instead he is the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, someone who’s won wide praise as a savvy strategic thinker for his party.

Does this mean House Republican candidates are going to be urged to run away from even the most modest of the entitlement curbs they’ve clamored for? Does it mean the NRCC has concluded that voters have no memories or respect for ideological consistency? Does it mean Obama has just found a convenient exit hatch from the grand bargain budget talks that he probably didn’t know existed on the GOP side of the talks just a few days ago.

Those were some of the questions MSNBC’s Karen Finney, Indiana GOP spokesman Pete Seat and I talked about with Chuck Todd on “The Daily Rundown” this morning. You can watch it here.