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National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden touched a nerve Wednesday when he savaged the entitlement changes in President Barack Obama’s budget as a “shocking attack on seniors.”
But while conservative groups expressed outrage and top House leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner, said they disagreed with Walden, it’s the lack of fallout for the Oregon Republican that may be more revealing.
The debate Walden’s remarks has set off inside the GOP shows many Republicans harbor deep-seated fears about publicly supporting the entitlement cuts they supposedly back and have demanded Obama and other Democrats embrace since taking control of the House in 2011.
“Walden is doing the right thing for the 30 seats that control the majority of the House, and that’s what the mission of NRCC chair is,” said Brock McLeary, the president of Harper Polling and a former top political hand at the NRCC.
“Right now, I’m not a fan, personally, of that,” sophomore class representative Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., said of “chained CPI.” “When you look at entitlement reform, it’s gotta be comprehensive.”
Many GOP operatives fear Obama’s embrace of chained consumer price index, a mechanism to slow the growth of Social Security benefits over time, is a trap — a means of getting Republicans to support the policy on the record only to see Democrats savage them for it down the line.
Still, that doesn’t change the breathtaking cynicism of Walden’s move.
On Wednesday, Boehner reiterated the GOP’s call for entitlement changes that would help balance the budget in 10 years, a stand that would require far bolder steps than the relatively modest policies in Obama’s budget. The Ohio Republican also praised Obama for including changes in his budget.
Hours later, Walden told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Obama was “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors.”
On Thursday, Boehner said, “I’ve made it clear that I disagree with what Chairman Walden said. He and I have had a conversation about it. This is the least we must do to begin to solve the problems of Social Security.”
Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said his boss “thinks that chained CPI should definitely be on the table” and noted that, like Boehner, Cantor had also spoken to Walden.
What, exactly, Boehner and Cantor told Walden remains a mystery, and whatever it was, it doesn’t seemed to have prompted a change of heart from Walden.