Friday, April 5, 2013 | 2:41 p.m.
Reports that President Barack Obama’s budget will include proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security set off a wave of criticism within the Democratic Party today.
But in Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is biting his tongue.
Reid, fresh off a phone call with the president, carefully steered clear of answering questions about his reaction to Obama’s reported endorsement of “chained CPI,” a Social Security calculation that would reduce the size of future benefits, on KNPR’s State of Nevada this morning.
Instead, he focused on his willingness “to look at ways we can make Medicare more effective.”
But Reid and Obama have agreed for a while that Medicare, the government’s health insurance program for seniors, can be poked and prodded for more savings.
They have not, historically, seen eye to eye on proposals to alter Social Security.
Reid appointed himself and his majority leader’s office the unofficial guardians of Social Security long ago, fending off efforts to privatize the program and warning away would-be program amenders as recently as last November, telling reporters the idea that Social Security needed to be altered was a “myth.”
But this is the second time in just a few months that chained CPI is cropping up in budget and deficit negotiations.
The first time, during the fiscal cliff negotiations of late December 2012, the idea was so toxic to Reid that he threw into a fireplace notes from a conversation he’d had with the White House in which Obama administration officials raised chained CPI, so that no one could ever accuse him of even entertaining the notion.
A few days later, when Republicans brought Reid a fiscal cliff counteroffer that contained chained CPI as a tradeoff for sequestration cuts and unemployment insurance, he rejected it outright.
In fact for several months, Reid has carefully tried to avoid speaking directly about chained CPI, even as it has risen as an option in various negotiations between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration. He instead commends Obama for demonstrating how serious he is about negotiation and compromise — before eschewing any specific discussion of proposed Social Security.
Back in 2011, Reid said the only situation in which he’d be willing to talk about making changes to Social Security was in the context of a “grand bargain” — one that involves upping tax revenues and slashing budgets, something Republicans have rejected.
Yet when asked by KNPR State of Nevada host Dave Becker whether he would be comfortable with changes to Social Security under such a bargain Friday morning, Reid said, “That’s a proposal that’s a little hard to answer.”
The grand bargain remains a goal of Obama’s second term. But fiscal 2014 — which starts Oct. 1 — may be too close a deadline to achieve that goal.
Obama’s budget won’t be released until next week. But the congressional process to draft a budget is already underway — and even Reid, it seems, is planning to focus on the Capitol’s procedure first.
“Right now, we have passed a budget...We have a good budget in the Senate,” Reid said. “Next week, [Budget committee Rep. Paul] Ryan and [Sen. Patty] Murray are going to get together to see if they can come up with something.
“If that bears no fruit, then I want regular order. I want conferences to be held to work out the differences between the House and the Senate.”
If Congress can successfully reach a compromise through regular congressional order, the process would to an extent, sideline the White House, save for the influence it wields over the various parties’ bargaining position. The White House does not have a formal seat at a conference committee table commensurate with the central role Obama and his deputies have played in past rounds of negotiating with congressional leaders.