House Republican campaign chief Greg Walden on Wednesday launched an attack on the entitlement changes contained in President Obama's budget proposal -- a signal that the entitlement reform well might already be poisoned.
Appearing on CNN, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman accused Obama of "trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors" and signaled Republicans may try to use the changes against Democrats in the coming election.
Walden's comments come even as key Republicans have embraced Obama's "chained CPI" proposal to cut Social Security benefits.
"I thought it's very intriguing in that his budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors, if you will," Walden (Ore.) said. "We haven't seen all the detail yet, so we'll look at it. But I'll tell you, when you're going after seniors the way he's already done on Obamacare, taking $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare, and now coming back at seniors again -- I think you're crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care..."
Walden added: "I think he's going to have a lot of pushback from some of the major senior organizations and Republicans as well."
One fiscally conservative group called on Walden to "clarify" his position on chained CPI. "With nearly $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, the last thing Republicans should attack the Democrats for is for making the most minor reforms to our entitlement programs," said Chris Chocola, head of the anti-tax Club for Growth.
The entitlement cuts contained in Obama's budget were seen as an olive branch to Republicans, who have long sought to reform programs like Social Security and Medicare, saying that changes are needed to sustain them and to cut the deficit and national debt.
Politically speaking, though, entitlement changes don't sit well with voters, and using them against those who propose them is often too tempting a campaign strategy -- even as it reduces the likelihood of some kind of bipartisan budget agreement.
Walden's words -- and the fact that his office and the NRCC have uploaded video of the interview to YouTube -- suggest that Republican candidates in 2014 may be employing that strategy.
Pressed on whether it's appropriate for Republicans to hit Obama's entitlement reforms when the GOP budget has contained its own entitlement reforms, Walden acknowledged the GOP proposals but said Obama's plan hurts seniors more.
"It's all about when you get to the specifics and what does that really mean down on the ground," he said.
Democrats, noting the GOP's long-standing push for entitlement reform and GOP leaders' support for so-called "chained CPI" change to Social Security, called on Walden to apologize.
"National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden must retract and apologize for his outrageous, breathtaking hypocrisy in attacking President Obama’s budget and reforms to Social Security that his own Republican leadership has been demanding for months," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement.
Update 5:15 p.m.: The NRCC is not backing down from Walden's comment.
“President Obama should apologize for offering the American people a budget that doesn’t balance and hurts seniors," spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said. "Democrats have zero credibility when they themselves are the ones who spent two years unsuccessfully attacking the Ryan Plan rather than coming up with a plan to grow our economy.”