Hoyer: Dems United Against Entitlement Benefit Cuts In Debt Fight

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been clear for weeks that entitlement benefit cuts — reducing the guarantees promised to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid beneficiaries — are off the table in high-stakes negotiations to raise the national debt limit and avoid a catastrophic default.

But several Democrats have been on the record for years saying they’d consider or accept certain benefit cuts as part of a broad, balanced package to address long-term deficits. And that’s raised the question of whether Pelosi would be able to hold the line if President Obama throws his weight behind cutting entitlement benefits as part of a “grand bargain” to reduce deficits by up to $4 trillion this decade.

Pelosi’s lieutenant, Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), is one of the Dems who in the past has called for benefit cuts to be on the table — alongside tax revenues, and savings — as part of a bipartisan plan to bring the budget into balance. Today, though, he said he’s with Pelosi 100 percent in the current fight, even if Republicans agree to a “grand bargain” that includes new tax revenue.“We have made it very clear that we have no intention of supporting cuts in beneficiaries’ benefits,” Hoyer said at his Tuesday press briefing, in response to a question from TPM.

This is, at the very least, a smart negotiating position for House Democrats. But it sets them apart from President Obama, who’s prepared to impose further means testing on Medicare beneficiaries, and perhaps to raise the retirement age by a couple years over time to garner significant House Republican support for a big budget deal that includes higher tax revenues. So if Hoyer and Pelosi hold the line here, then a “grand bargain” may be impossible — the votes wouldn’t be there.

That would widen the rift between Obama and the House, but make progressive advocates and seniors very happy.

Alternatively, this could move Republicans closer to the Democratic position on Medicare and Medicaid — to look for savings from health care providers and manufacturers first, not directly from beneficiaries — at which point Dems might soften their demands.

In any case, Hoyer’s firm line on this suggests Dems aren’t as divided in this debt fight as you might assume they’d be.