By Mike Lillis - 03/14/13 09:52 PM EDT
President Obama asked House Democrats on Thursday to give him the political room to make concessions to Republicans on entitlements as part of a deficit-reduction deal.
In a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus in the Capitol Visitor Center, Obama said he won't accept anything less than a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes new tax revenues, according to numerous lawmakers in the room.
"What he basically said was that there's got to be a balanced deal," Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said just after the meeting. "And that if there's going to be revenues, then obviously there's going to be, in a Republican-controlled House, the need for us to consider some of the things we don't like. That was more or less it."
Wrapping up his congressional outreach tour Thursday, Obama asked House Democrats to consider cuts they oppose for the sake of a bipartisan budget deal. He openly discussed his proposal to adopt a less generous formula for calculating inflation growth for entitlements, known as chained CPI, in exchange for more tax revenue from Republicans.
The offer is controversial with liberal Democrats, as it would reduce the size of Social Security payments over time. Leaving Thursday's meeting, some House members said they weren't ready to concede that change.
“I think the president and the leadership know where a great many of our members stand on that,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
More than half of all House Democrats, including Grijalva, have endorsed a letter to Obama opposing a move to the chained CPI.
Democratic leaders said they're willing to concede some entitlement changes in negotiations with Republicans. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has backed the move to have wealthier seniors pay more for certain Medicare services, floated that notion again Thursday.
"We're open to talking about how we can find other ways to save, whether that's somebody like me paying more for a co-pay or a deductible," Pelosi said after the meeting. "But we have to be careful when we means-test because most of the beneficiaries on Medicare make $40,000 or below."
Pelosi said Obama's proposition to move to the chained CPI is also "something to put on the table."
But Democrats will not accept entitlement changes that weaken those programs, Pelosi stipulated, and they won't consider any benefit cuts without Republicans offering up new tax revenues.
"The president is very clear about this," Pelosi said. "No revenue, no change in entitlements."
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) said Obama is aware of his party's opposition to entitlement benefit cuts, but nonetheless pressed his troops to accept some in the name of compromise.
The Louisiana sophomore said Obama told Democrats that they have to be "open to putting traditional things on the table that we've not put on the table before ... some reform to entitlements."
"[Obama] recognizes that we are in tough times," Richmond said. "But we have to act, and he expressed a willingness to compromise with the other side and urged that we compromise and be willing to."
Obama's huddle with House Democrats marked his fourth, and last, meeting with congressional lawmakers this week, following similar gatherings with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, House Republicans Wednesday and Senate Republicans earlier Thursday.
Leaving the CVC Thursday, Obama said the outreach campaign had yielded progress, but that there's a lot of work to be done if the two sides are to come together on a budget agreement.
"Ultimately," he said, "it's a matter of the House and the Senate, both conferences, getting together and everybody agreeing on a compromise."
—Molly K. Hooper and Russell Berman contributed to this story.
This story was posted at 5:08 p.m. and updated at 5:52 p.m.