By Mike Lillis - 07/11/11 11:37 PM EDT
The top two Democrats in the House are at odds over what should be on the bargaining table in the debt-limit talks.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) on Monday renewed his pledge not to rule out any policy options as the talks evolve – a sentiment he shares with President Obama.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) disagrees. She has said she won't support a debt-ceiling package that erodes benefits under any of the major entitlement programs.
"[Democrats] continue to oppose benefit cuts in Social Security and Medicare," Pelosi said in a statement issued seven minutes after Hoyer's Monday evening. "These pillars of economic and health security should not be used as a piggybank to subsidize tax cuts for the wealthy.”
The comments arrived several hours after Obama huddled at the White House with bipartisan leaders from both chambers – including Pelosi and Hoyer – in hopes of reaching a deal before the Aug. 2 deadline. Those negotiations are expected to continue every day, at least through this week.
During a press conference earlier in the day, the president clearly sided with Hoyer's approach, warning liberal Democrats that a compromise will likely mean including entitlement reforms unpopular within the caucus.
"The vast majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill would prefer not to have to do anything on entitlements – would prefer, frankly, not to have to do anything on some of these debt and deficit problems," Obama said.
"If you’re a progressive who cares about the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and believes that it is part of what makes our country great that we look after our seniors and we look after the most vulnerable, then we have an obligation to make sure that we make those changes that are required to make it sustainable over the long term."
Obama added, "It is hard to persuade people to do hard stuff that entails trimming benefits and increasing revenues. But the reason we’ve got a problem right now is people keep on avoiding hard things, and I think now is the time for us to go ahead and take it on."