If there’s one thing that puts the recovery at risk, it’s the possibility that Congress — Democrats included — will pivot back to austerity and again prioritize deficit reduction at a time when the focus should remain on jobs.

With this in mind, a progressive group is seeking to make an example of Steny Hoyer, the number two in the House Democratic leadership. The group, CREDO Action, is hammering Hoyer for pledging recently to get behind a new bipartisan effort to reach another “grand bargain” on the deficit.

Liberals worry that Hoyer’s effort — which he unveiled in front of the “centrist” group Third Way — signals the possibility that Dems could support significant cuts to Medicare and Social Security, which could undermine the social safety net and weaken the Dems’ ability to take back the House, since a sharp contrast on Medicare will be central to the Dem message.

I’m told CREDO Action will call on members today to deluge Hoyer’s office with phone calls, the latest effort to pressure Hoyer into pledging that he will not agree to any cuts to entitlements as part of further “grand bargain” talks.

The latest move comes in response to a statement released last week by Hoyer, which vaguely pledged he would try to avoid “crippling effects” on programs like Medicare. In an email set to go out today, CREDO will argue that this isn’t good enough:

Working with Republicans on a deal which will preemptively cave on cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is not acceptable from the second most powerful Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives. Rep. Hoyer clearly doesn’t want press about his behind the scenes maneuverings to cut a back room deal to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. If Rep. Hoyer wants to cut the deficit he should be working on rolling back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans and bringing our troops home from the disastrous and costly occupation of Afghanistan.

We need you to help us hold Rep. Hoyer accountable by asking him to make an unequivocal commitment not to strike any backroom deal behind closed doors to cut Social Security, Medicare Medicaid or benefits. If we can turn up the pressure now and expose Rep. Hoyer’s efforts, we may be able to stop a bad deal well before it comes to the floor of the House for a vote

Hoyer’s office points out that his original speech promised to ensure “that the most vulnerable among us are protected.”

The brewing battle also highlights something of a divide among Dems. While Hoyer appears eager to telegraph a willingness to work with Republicans on some kind of deficit reduction plan involving Medicare, Nancy Pelosi has argued that the focus should be put squarely on Republicans.

In an interview with me last week, Pelosi said the Dem message should be simple — Republicans, via the Ryan-Wyden plan, want to end the Medicare guarantee, and Democrats don’t. She warned that Dems should not get lured too deeply into deficit-reduction negotiating over Medicare, lest it muddle the contrast between the two parties. Yet liberals fear that Hoyer may be doing just that. Keep an eye on this one, it will get interesting.


UPDATE: A Hoyer spokesman also points out that his speech on the deficit included this: “Our number one priority must continue to be creating jobs and setting our economy back on a course toward sustainable growth that creates opportunities for our middle class.” He also said that growth should be prioritized over deficit reduction.