Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), head of the National Republican Campaign Committee, lashed out at the president’s chained CPI proposal: “When you’re going after seniors the way he’s already done on Obamacare, taken $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 in districts like mine certainly and around the country.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

I’ve had my differences with the conservative group Club for Growth’s tactics, but it was right on the money on Wednesday in going after Walden for reflecting the mindset conservatives deplore in liberals. In a news release CFG stated:

Greg Walden doesn’t seriously oppose even the most modest of reforms to social security, right?” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “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. If anything, President Obama nibbles around the edges of entitlement reform and doesn’t do anything to put entitlements on a permanently sustainable path.

Precisely so. And in asking him to “think about clarifying his remarks, ” CFG gave Walden a graceful way out. If he doesn’t take it he should be booted from his post at NRCC, which is supposed to get elected conservatives who are committed to fiscal sobriety and entitlement reform. One can imagine congressmen who took political risks on entitlement reform are fuming right about now.

Walden could not have been more at odds with the speaker of the House. In his response to Obama’s budget, John Boehner said that “while the president has backtracked on some of his entitlement reforms that were in conversations that we had a year and a half ago, he does deserve some credit for some incremental entitlement reforms that he has outlined in his budget. But I would hope that he would not hold hostage these modest reforms for his demand for bigger tax hikes. Listen, why don’t we do what we can agree to do? Why don’t we find the common ground that we do have and move on that?”

The problem with the president’s budget is not that he takes too much away from seniors but that he does next to nothing to reform entitlements for the long haul. In the minor move on CPI, Obama went further than the Senate Democrats have or will be prepared to go. And now, rather than making this a story about Democratic irresponsibility, it lends itself to accusations of GOP hypocrisy (ably conveyed by the White House through friendly lefty pundits). Liberal ideologues allergic to any reform now take comfort in Walden’s remarks while the president can pose as “brave.”

If conservatives are dismayed that Republicans haven’t done enough on entitlements Social Security or come up with an alternative to Obamacare or a complete tax reform package, this episode serves as a partial explanation. Not only must reformers face media and Democratic (I repeat myself) demagoguery, but there also is still a fair amount of cluelessness on the Republican side of the aisle.

Republicans will not win the argument or carry the day at the polls by running to the left of the president. The country already has one party determined to be fiscally irresponsible. Republicans would do well to go in the opposite direction — provide a more concrete tax reform plan and unify around at least a conceptual alternative to Obamacare. Then they can go to the American people with a credible argument that the problem is the Democratic Senate and the White House. The former can be fixed in 2014, the latter in 2016 — but only if Republicans make clear that Walden doesn’t speak for them.

 

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.