Pelosi and Hoyer keeping an open mind to cuts to entitlement programs

House Democratic leaders have softened their blanket opposition to Social Security cuts in a “fiscal-cliff” package despite an outpouring of anger from rank-and-file members.

Democratic leaders are keeping an open mind after President Obama proposed to cut inflationary increases in Social Security payments in his latest offer to Republicans, with some saying they’d support such reductions if the most vulnerable beneficiaries are protected. 

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“The Democrats will stick with the president,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday when asked about the Social Security provisions on MSNBC.

Pelosi emphasized that the details of the plan “are not all ironed out,” and acknowledged that “maybe not every single [Democrat]” would support it. But she expressed confidence that an agreement backed by Obama — if it protected the oldest and the poorest — would win significant support from her troops.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) delivered a similar message Tuesday.

“Everybody needs to understand that nobody is going to be happy with every provision of a deal,” Hoyer warned. “Some members will have problems with some parts, but … if we get an agreement that the president can support, hopefully we can get a majority in the House — Republicans and Democrats — and [Speaker John] BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Bottom line Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future MORE [R-Ohio] and the leader [Pelosi] and I will convince members that we ought to move forward.”


Hoyer added, “Affecting entitlements would not be our first choice, but then again, I don’t think you get there from here without dealing, in some respects, with entitlements.”

Many rank-and-file Democrats, however, are up in arms over the White House offer. The proposal comes weeks after both Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested Social Security was off the table in the fiscal-cliff negotiations.

Emerging from a Democratic Caucus meeting Tuesday morning — where they were briefed on Obama’s plan by top White House adviser Rob Nabors — the Democrats pushed back hard against the president’s proposal to reduce future cost-of-living raises for Social Security recipients.

The change — known as the chained consumer price index (CPI) — is said to cut $130 billion in federal spending over a decade, and would include safeguards to protect the most vulnerable seniors. 

“I don’t like it at all,” said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.).

“A terrible idea,” said Rep. and Sen.-elect Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production Overnight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration MORE (D-Conn.).

“We don’t like the chained CPI,” said Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyCongress must enact a plan to keep government workers safe Trump's postmaster general is playing with political fire USAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency MORE (D-Va.).

“We don’t like it,” said Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiWuhan is the final straw: The world needs to divest from China GOP seizes on 'defund the police' to galvanize base Peace Corps faces uncertain future with no volunteers in field MORE (D-Calif.). “Why are you hurting the vulnerable seniors?”

Any fiscal-cliff deal brokered between Boehner and Obama will need a significant amount of Democratic support to pass the House, because Tea Party lawmakers are expected to reject such an agreement.

Several Senate Democrats also hammered Obama’s chained CPI proposal Tuesday, with Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinInspector general independence must be a bipartisan priority in 2020 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer MORE (D-Mich.) saying the provision would be “a problem for Democrats”; Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinPPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  Congress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help Senate passes extension of application deadline for PPP small-business loans MORE (D-Md.) warning that he’ll “fight hard” to keep Social Security out of the fiscal-cliff package; and Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.) saying the White House move “doesn’t warm my heart.”

“I don’t care if they spread it over a whole bunch of years. The whole understanding has been that we wouldn’t do Social Security,” Rockefeller said. “That was for later.”

A day after the election, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidKamala Harris makes history — as a Westerner McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill Kamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' MORE (D-Nev.) said, “We are not going to mess with Social Security.”

Obama first embraced the CPI change and raising the Medicare eligibility age in his 2011 negotiations with Boehner on a grand bargain on taxes and spending. Those talks subsequently fell apart.

Both Hoyer and Pelosi said changes to Social Security updates would be much easier for Democrats to swallow than proposals to raise the eligibility age for Medicare.

“The age limit is much more sensitive,” Hoyer said.

Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraHillicon Valley: Uber, Lyft ordered to reclassify drivers | Internal report finds thousands of QAnon groups, pages on Facebook | Twitter enters ring for TikTok Judge rules Uber, Lyft must classify drivers as employees Uber CEO proposes flexible 'benefits funds' for drivers without making them employees MORE (Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has for weeks attacked efforts to cut Social Security as part of the fiscal-cliff talks — including the move to chained CPI. But he moderated his tone sharply on Tuesday, being careful not to attack Obama’s chained CPI proposal directly.

“The president has, all the way through this, tried to come up with a plan that … would be balanced and would address our deficits and still let us move forward with creating jobs,” Becerra said. “Many of us still have faith that the president will ultimately — if he strikes a deal with the Republicans — give us a plan that we can vote on that provides that fairness and that balance. What the actual elements will be? It’s unclear.”

Rep. John Larson (Conn.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has also attacked proposed cuts to Social Security benefits. But on Tuesday, he likewise declined to go after Obama’s proposal, saying he’s still waiting for details.

“We didn’t get into that kind of discussion” with Nabors, he said. “All of you can generally surmise what people in the caucus would have to say about that. But until there’s any kind of concrete proposal … it seems like a moving target, so [there’s] not really much we can comment on there. 

“We continue to stand with the president on a fair and balanced proposal that has to accomplish the goals that he has outlined,” Larson added.

Liberal Democrats and advocacy groups, meanwhile, are racing furiously to prevent the chained CPI from making its way into a final deal. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee blasted an email Tuesday with warnings that such a shift would weaken Social Security for everyone.

“A move toward chained CPI,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), “would be a long-term benefit cut for every single person who receives a Social Security check.”

Bernie Becker, Peter Schroeder and Erik Wasson contributed.