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Hoyer: Entitlement benefit cuts on the table in talks with GOP on 'fiscal cliff'

Entitlement cuts should remain on the table as party leaders seek to hash out an end-of-the-year budget deal, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.
A number of Democratic leaders — including Reps. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), John Larson (Conn.) and Xavier Becerra (Calif.) — have said they would support some spending reductions in Medicare, but that cuts to direct benefits should not be a part of the negotiations. Along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), they also maintain that Social Security reform has no place at all in the “fiscal cliff” talks.

But Hoyer, the Democratic whip, warned that taking entitlement benefits off the table is a bad place to start the negotiations. Such entrenched positions are little different, he said, than the Republicans’ refusal to consider hikes in tax rates — a central element of President Obama’s deficit-reduction proposal.

Hoyer said GOP proposals to raise the Medicare eligibility age, make wealthier seniors pay higher Medicare rates and limit the cost-of-living increases for some federal programs are legitimate ones, even as he warned he might not support them.
“They clearly are on the table,” Hoyer said of the Medicare changes during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol. “They were on the table in the Boehner-Obama talks. They’ve been on the table for some period of time. That does not mean that I’d be prepared to adopt them now, but they’re clearly, I think, on the table.”
Hoyer said the GOP’s proposal to reduce the cost-of-living increases to certain federal programs – the so-called chained consumer price index (CPI) – should also be considered as part of the fiscal cliff talks.
“We have many Republicans say ‘absolutely not’ … on [higher] rates or revenues,” he said. “There are Democrats on our side who say ‘absolutely not’ if they do A or they do B or they do C. … You’ve got to put everything on the table.”
CPI, a measure of inflation that attempts to gauge cost-of-living fluctuations, is used to index a number of government programs – including food stamps, federal pensions and determining tax brackets. But in the current deficit-reduction fight it’s most often used in reference to Social Security payments.
Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week urged that Social Security adopt the chained CPI formula.
“Those are the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in new revenue,” McConnell told The Wall Street Journal.
Many Democrats have rejected the chained CPI for Social Security because it would reduce the cost-of-living increases under the popular seniors’ program.
Hoyer’s office said Tuesday that Hoyer’s support for having chained CPI on the table was not a reference to Social Security, which they say he wants on “a separate track.”