Yesterday, GOP Rep. Greg Walden — the chairman of the NRCC — attacked the Chained CPI in Obama’s budget as an assault on seniors. This was curious, because GOP leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor had expressed support for the idea only hours earlier. This suggested that Congressional Republicans would continue to demand entitlement reform even as the House GOP’s political arm was signaling it would hammer Dems over Obama’s support for what Republicans themselves say they want.
Today reporters pressed Boehner on Walden’s claims, and he distanced himself from the NRCC chair:
“I’ve made it clear that I disagree with what Chairman Walden said,” Boehner said at a press conference. “He and I have had a conversation about it. This is the least we must do to begin to solve the problems in Social Security.”
Of course, the right question for Boehner is not whether he agrees with Walden about Chained CPI. We already know he doesn’t. He said yesterday he supports the proposal. And he asked Obama for it during the fiscal cliff talks.
Rather, the right question for Boehner is: Will you ensure that the NRCC will not attack Dems over this in the 2014 elections? After all, the Speaker effectively controls the NRCC. It is the party committee devoted to electing Republicans to the House of Representatives. And the NRCC is claiming that it stands by Walden’s comments, in which Walden clearly telegraphed that Republicans plan to make this an issue in 2014.
I asked a Boehner spokesman if the Speaker wants the NRCC to take this off the table as an issue. His answer:
As the Speaker said, he had a private conversation with Chairman Walden about this and we’re going to leave it at that.
So we still don’t know what the NRCC will do. And if you think there’s no way Republicans would do something as absurd as attack Dems in 2014 because the president backs a policy that they support, recall that Republicans passed a budget that cut Medicare and then made the attack on Dems for the Medicare cuts in Obamacare central to their message in 2010 and 2012.
To reiterate, what we have here is this: The GOP Congressional leadership is demanding that Obama embrace entitlement reform, and blasting him as unserious for failing to offer sufficient entitlement cuts. Obama has offered Republicans Chained CPI — which is a Social Security benefits cut that Republicans themselves said they wanted. But the NRCC has now signaled Republicans may use this to pillory Dems in 2014 for going after seniors, just as Republicans attacked Dems on Medicare in the last two cycles. Obviously, the threat of these attacks makes it all the harder for Dems to agree to the reforms Republicans themselves say the country urgently needs. This is not politics as usual.