After a contentious White House meeting with President Obama and other Congressional leaders, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) returned to the Capitol and drew an important red line: Members of her caucus won’t vote for a grand bargain to raise the debt limit and reduce future deficits if the final deal includes cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits — and that means it probably won’t pass.
“You [asked], ‘could the changes compromise the vote?’” Pelosi said at a Thursday afternoon briefing near the House chamber. “I said yes.”
It’s widely believed that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will need Democratic votes to raise the debt limit. Democratic leaders, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) have offered to help him out — but not on Boehner’s terms alone. Pelosi has her own terms.
“We have been very clear Democrats are not supporting — House Democrats are not supporting any cuts in benefits for Social Security or Medicare,” she said.
Pelosi argued at her press conference that any savings wrung from Social Security and Medicare should be rerouted into strengthening those programs, not toward reducing deficits.
“Any discussion of Medicare or Social Security should be on its own table,” Pelosi warned. “Do not consider Social Security a piggy bank for giving tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country.”
At the meeting, Pelosi spoke for her angry caucus. She and other Dems were caught off guard by the fact that Obama has essentially locked Congress on a course to make deep spending cuts in popular programs, on GOP-friendly terms, without consulting his own party. She thus sought to set the terms of the negotiations to make them friendlier to progressive interests.
For instance, she said, “If there is some kind of a cap on discretionary spending are there firewalls between domestic vs. defense spending so that we don’t run into a situation where there are no defense cuts and they’re all domestic discretionary,” she said. “As far as our meeting was concerned, I think I can legitimately put to our caucus that their views have been heard and very strongly so.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.