By Mike Lillis - 10/27/11 04:29 PM EDT
As a growing number of liberal Democrats are attacking a plan from supercommittee Democrats to slash Medicare benefits, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is being careful not to wade too deeply into the controversy.
"It's no use asking me about specific things until we see the whole package," Pelosi said Thursday during a press briefing in the Capitol. "I'm not making any judgment about any package until I see the fuller package that it's a part of."
"It's not fair to say to a senior, 'You're going to pay more for Social Security,' and we're not going to touch a hair on the head of the wealthiest people in our country," Pelosi said.
On Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) presented Republicans on the deficit panel with a sweeping proposal that includes hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts and more than $1 trillion in new tax hikes — a package approaching the "grand bargain" that was negotiated over the summer by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The package – which was endorsed by a majority of the six Democrats on the deficit panel – reportedly featured Medicare reductions in the range of $400 billion to $500 billion, including hundreds of billions of dollars in benefit cuts. A number of liberal Democrats hammered the proposal this week, warning that benefit cuts under Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are a nonstarter.
"I don't want to hear Democrats suggesting that we have those types of cuts in Medicare," Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told The Hill Wednesday. "I hope that's not true."
Pelosi, however, declined to join those critics on Thursday.
"Let's just see a package," she said. "Let's not … exclude anything."
Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have recently entered talks behind the scenes in hopes of finalizing a bipartisan deal that can pass both chambers by the end of the year — a dynamic that's led to some murmurings that House Democrats are being left out of the high-stakes budget talks.
Pelosi, however, rejected the notion that she's been excluded, arguing that she's being well-represented by the members she appointed to the panel.
"I don't believe that I have been cut out of the supercommittee discussions," she said. "The three people that we have sent to the table [Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.)] have my trust and confidence and that of our caucus."
The California liberal also repeated her calls for the supercommittee to be more transparent, arguing bluntly that later negotiations must be open to the public.
"It cannot be a product of secrecy," Pelosi said.
"They may want to ... narrow the issues," she said of the panel members, but "in order for our members to embrace this they have to know more about it and know why it has come to the place that it has."
"At some point the discussion has to be more public," she said.