- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The White House said Tuesday President Obama is willing to discuss with Republicans a measure to limit the growth of Social Security benefits, a proposal that Mr. Obama didn’t even include in his fiscal 2016 budget plan after it drew a hostile reaction from Democrats.

For the second straight year, Mr. Obama failed to include in his budget the so-called “chained CPI” proposal, which would change the inflation formula used to determine cost-of-living increases in Social Security checks. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said it would save more than $230 billion over a decade and reduce deficits.

Democrats have been the most vocal critics of the proposal, but White House press secretary Josh Earnest blamed the GOP Tuesday for the administration not pursuing the initiative.

“We’re certainly open to that conversation with Republicans if they want to have a genuine conversation about strengthening Social Security,” Mr. Earnest said. “But frankly, we’ve not gotten a lot of serious willingness on the part of Republicans to engage in that conversation.”

An aide to Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the White House isn’t serious about addressing the nation’s debt crisis, including entitlement growth.

“Republicans are the only ones who have offered and passed a balanced budget that deals with the drivers of debt in a serious, meaningful way,” said Boehner spokesman Cory Fritz. “While the White House pushes more spending, more taxes and more debt, we’ll continue to lead with real solutions to support economic growth, job creation and expand opportunity for all Americans.”

Progressive groups reacted with elation when they learned that Mr. Obama had again dropped the chained CPI proposal from this year’s budget blueprint.

“A few years ago the president proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits with chained CPI in a delusional idea that he could use this to negotiate with Republicans,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for the liberal PAC Democracy for America. “Well, Republicans wanted more. They didn’t want to do that. And then they went on in the next congressional election to attack the president for cutting Social Security benefits.”

The White House and GOP also are squaring off over the president’s proposal to shift some payroll tax revenue from Social Security’s retirement fund to prevent a looming cut in disability payments, a move House Republicans already forbade when they voted on the chamber’s rules in January.

The disability trust fund will be depleted next year, resulting in a 19 percent benefits cut for 11 million beneficiaries if Congress does nothing. During similar shortfalls in the past, Congress has reallocated some payroll revenue from the retirement fund to disability insurance.

“Making that one minor change to the Social Security [disability] program would ensure its solvency for another 15 or 20 years,” Mr. Earnest said. “This is a change that we would expect Democrats and Republicans to act together on this time.”

But House Republicans have said the change would amount to “kicking the can down the road,” and instead want to propose reforms to the disability program, saying it is riddled with waste, fraud and abuse.

Mr. Obama first proposed use of the chained CPI in 2011 as part of a “grand bargain” with Republicans on deficit reduction. Liberals were enraged by the proposal, with more than half of House Democrats and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada voicing opposition. Democrats later declared victory in 2014 when the president backed down.

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

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