By Bob Cusack - 07/07/11 01:20 PM EDT
President Obama's stunning move to consider major changes to Social Security puts him at odds with Democratic leaders in Congress.
In a March interview on MSNBC, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "Leave Social Security alone."
Reid said at the time, "Two decades from now, I'm willing to take a look at it. But I'm not willing to take a look at it right now."
During a May interview on CNBC, Pelosi said everything should be on the table in the debt talks, but suggested Social Security reforms should be aimed at shoring up the popular entitlement program — not reducing the deficit.
On June 22, House Democrats warned that Social Security cuts are a nonstarter.
“You want a fight?” Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said during a press conference in the Capitol. “If anybody in this building wants to take on Social Security — privatize it, change the benefits by altering the consumer price index or by any other method — know this: You’ve got a fight on your hands."
“Raising the retirement age is a benefit cut,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), a Pelosi deputy, suggested on Thursday morning that the reports of Obama wanting to tackle Social Security in the debt-ceiling talks have caught some by surprise.
During an interview on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program, Becerra said he wouldn't put Social Security on the table, but said he understands that in negotiations, all "sacred cows" must be discussed.
Becerra cited figures from the Congressional Budget Office to make his case that Social Security has not contributed to the deficit, pointing the finger at the George W. Bush tax rates.
Like Pelosi, the California Democrat said he could support changes to Social Security that strengthen the system. He also indicated he would be open to lifting the Social Security cap, which is now at $106,000.
That change, which was proposed by Bush and quickly rejected by congressional Republicans, would mandate that the wealthy pay more into the Social Security system.
During his 2008 campaign, Obama vowed not to raise taxes on families making $250,000 or less per year.
Obama's decision to put Social Security on the table could be aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive. Republicans have vowed to oppose tax increases as part of the debt-ceiling negotiations, and Obama could make the case that he is willing to take flak from his base to get a deal and urge GOP lawmakers to do the same by agreeing to raise some taxes in order to reduce the deficit.
The White House on Thursday pushed back a bit at The Washington Post's report that Obama is seeking significant reforms to Social Security. A White House aide told The Huffington Post that the article "overshoots the runway" while acknowledging the program must be strengthened. The New York Times also reported on the issue.
Obama is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders Thursday morning to discuss raising the nation's debt ceiling.
This article was updated at 9:56 a.m.