By Michael A. Memoli
Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)
---- — WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans backed off a demand to trim spending on Social Security by changing the cost-of-living adjustment, a proposal Democrats say was a nonstarter in talks to avert tax increases and budget cuts set to take effect in the new year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) included the provision to move to a “chained CPI” — an alternative measure of inflation — in his offer Saturday evening. It was, aides cautioned, not the only sticking point that held up talks Sunday.
But soon after the idea became public, Republican senators began distancing themselves from it.
“I’m not a fan,” said retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine as she left a meeting of the party caucus. “I don’t think it should be part of it, and I think there are others who shared that view.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he supported the idea in theory, but that it should not have been offered as part of current talks, which are focused narrowly on tax rates.
Asked why his party leader made the proposal, McCain said: “Damned if I know.”
“It’s a very bad, losing proposition,” McCain said. “What (Democrats) are saying now is, ‘Republicans want to preserve tax breaks for rich people and give up seniors’ Social Security.’ That’s the argument they’re using. Now whether it’s valid or not, it’s a winning argument. It should be off the table. And I think most Republicans believe it should be off the table.”
In the last offer he made to House Speaker John A. Boehner, President Barack Obama had included the chained CPI as part of a larger deal that also would have included asking Republicans to agree to raise the debt ceiling for two years. But lawmakers now have all but written off the likelihood of that kind of large-scale “grand bargain.” Instead, they are working simply to prevent a year-end tax increase for nearly all Americans.
“I’ve supported chained CPI as part of a grand bargain, but this is no grand bargain,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.