Pelosi open to looking at Obama proposal to cut Social Security

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she'll consider Social Security cuts as part of a sweeping deficit-reduction package.

Ahead of a meeting between President Obama and House Democrats, Pelosi said moving to a less generous formula for adjusting Social Security benefits to inflation — if it protects the most vulnerable Social Security beneficiaries — might be preferable to other entitlement cuts Republicans are urging, like raising Medicare's eligibility age.

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"If we can demonstrate that it doesn’t hurt the poor and the very elderly, then let's take a look at it," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "Because compared to what? Compared to Republicans saying Medicare should wither on the vine? Social Security has no place in a free society?”

Citing a Kaiser Foundation analysis indicating that raising Medicare's eligibility age would cost the government money, Pelosi said such a move is simply "trophy-taking."

“It's just a scalp,” she said. “It doesn't save money.”

Although there's no official legislative proposal, the president has repeatedly said he's willing to index future Social Security updates to the so-called chained consumer price index (CPI), which would reduce payments over the long term. The White House this week said he's still eyeing that change as part of a much larger deficit-reduction package.

"The president's offer to Speaker [John] Boehner ... remains on the table," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday, adding that his offer includes chained CPI. "I'm not trying to telegraph too much here ... but it would be wonderful if the Speaker could take it up."

It's not the first time Pelosi has said she'll consider the chained CPI as part of a broad budget package. In December, the California liberal had defended Obama's openness to that change as part of "fiscal cliff" negotiations. She argued that Democrats will have to make sacrifices for the sake of an agreement.

"If there are some savings that do not harm people who are in need, then that's something to look at," Pelosi said at the time.

The notion of a chained CPI — and Obama's willingness to embrace it — has infuriated liberal Democrats in both chambers, who argue that Social Security hasn't contributed to deficit spending and should therefore be left untouched in any deficit debate.

Obama has raised the chained CPI idea in meetings this week on Capitol Hill with House Republicans and Senate Democrats. He wraps up a tour of the four caucuses Thursday with Senate Republicans and House Democrats.

The campaign is designed, at least in part, to quell criticism that the president has not done enough in his tenure to listen to the concerns of rank-and-file members from both parties.

Entitlement reform has emerged as a topic of conversation in the two meetings earlier this week, with liberal Senate Democrats challenging Obama's embrace of the chained CPI and conservative House Republicans prodding him to accept certain entitlement cuts. In both cases, Obama defended his past positions, telling lawmakers that he's willing to include Medicare and Social Security reforms as part of a deficit grand bargain that includes new tax revenues.

“He did express a willingness on entitlements,” Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) said after Wednesday's meeting.

Liberal House Democrats will likely confront him on that issue Thursday. Behind Reps. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.), a number of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are circulating a letter vowing to oppose "any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits" in future negotiations with Republicans.

A similar letter, spearheaded by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), has been endorsed by more than half of all House Democrats.

Pelosi on Thursday downplayed any division between her caucus and the White House, saying both camps are open to entitlement changes as long as they strengthen the programs for future beneficiaries.

“If the goal is to strengthen Social Security, if the goal is to strengthen Medicare, if the goal is to recognize the importance of Medicaid and how we make all of these initiatives fiscally sound ... then we're ready to have that debate,” she said.

“And I'm sure we're on the same page with the president in that regard.”

—This story was posted at 12:23 p.m. and updated at 3:06 p.m.