GOP senators backing away from Social Security demand

The call to include a measure of inflation known as the chained consumer price index, or “chained CPI,” threatened to derail talks as negotiators raced to find a compromise by their year-end deadline.

But after a conference meeting, GOP lawmakers made clear they were not insisting on the measure.

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Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said Social Security cuts are all but off the table. She said that the issue would be "a part of a larger debate,” later in 2013 when Congress considers raising the debt-ceiling limit. 

"It's safe to say that chained CPI will not be a part of … [the GOP's] proposal. … We'll leave that for a later day, which I'm pleased about because I'm not a fan of affecting those currently on Social Security, especially the more elderly," said Snowe.

"There is a realization that that proposal deserves more study," added Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsActress Marcia Gay Harden urges Congress to boost Alzheimer's funding 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families Trump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril MORE (R-Maine).

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidAmendments fuel resentments within Senate GOP Donald Trump is delivering on his promises and voters are noticing Danny Tarkanian wins Nevada GOP congressional primary MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWarren on family separation policy: Trump is ‘taking America to a dark and ugly place’ Senate GOP tries to defuse Trump border crisis Schumer rejects GOP proposal to address border crisis MORE (R-Ky.) have been negotiating since late Friday on a package to avoid the combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin in January.

On Sunday, the GOP introduced their new demand for including the chained CPI measure. The accounting adjustment would create reductions in some Social Security and other entitlement benefit payments while raising some tax revenue. But Democrats said it was a non-starter this late in negotiations. 

Reid took to the Senate floor and said that talks had reached an impasse and that "at this stage we are not able to make a counteroffer." 

“We’re not going to have any Social Security cuts," Reid added. “It’s just doesn’t seem appropriate at this time,” said Reid.

Multiple GOP senators said a chief sticking point is that Democrats want to use new revenue to replace or delay the sequester, while Republicans want other offsetting spending cuts. But GOP senators said they were abandoning the demand on Social Security to push toward a deal.

Incoming Senate Minority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Senate GOP tries to defuse Trump border crisis Dem plays audio from child detention center on Senate floor MORE (R-Texas) said that McConnell expects to convene the conference again later Sunday as talks continue.

Heading into the Sunday Republican conference meeting, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare health plans | 'Zero tolerance' policy stirs fears in health community | New ObamaCare repeal plan McCain, Coons: Trump should withdraw controversial refugee nominee GOP senators drafting legislation to keep immigrant families together MORE (R-S.C.), a party leader on Social Security reform, said chained CPI did not need to be in the deal.

"It is absolutely not crucial at all," he said, adding that it can be done as part of a debt-ceiling deal next year.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneStop labeling babies as 'born addicted' — it stigmatizes them and is inaccurate Trump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril McConnell: Mueller 'ought to wrap it up' MORE (R-S.D.) said that Democrats needed to take the next step in talks. "If that is unacceptable to them they need to come up with an alternative," he said.

Chained CPI is greatly opposed by progressives in the Senate Democratic caucus and could have led members of Reid's own party to filibuster a deal on the floor as the deadline for the fiscal cliff approaches. 

The new measure was included in an offer by Obama to BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerZeal, this time from the center Juan Williams: The GOP's deal with the devil Hillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase MORE as part of their talks to reach a more sweeping deal. Those talks involved much greater levels of guaranteed revenue from tax reform than appear to be on the table in the Reid-McConnell talks. As such, Democrats were loath to lose the concession at this time.

Obama in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, however, cited chained CPI as one area where he would be willing to buck liberals in his party to push entitlement reform.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also in the past said that she would be open to support chained CPI as part of a broad deal. 

"If there are some savings that do not harm people who are in need, then that's something to look at,” said Pelosi earlier this month. “But we're really actually looking at the bigger picture. It doesn't mean you subscribe to everything within it. And certainly my colleagues are not happy with the chained CPI. But if we were very happy with the proposal that the president put forth, I'm not sure it would have much of a chance on the Republican side."

Russell Berman and Mike Lillis contributed.

-- Updated at 4:45 p.m.