Congressman Greg Walden, taken to task by fellow GOP leaders and others over comments criticizing President Barack Obama for trying to slow the growth of Social Security benefits, isn't backing down.
"Oregonians are the ones who give me a voting card every two years — that's where my responsibility lies," the Republican from Hood River said Friday in an interview with the Mail Tribune.
"First of all, I support comprehensive entitlement reform, but it has to be done correctly," he added. "It should not take benefits away from existing seniors. This is something I believe very strongly."
During an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday, Walden accused Obama of "trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors" by proposing a slower growth in Social Security benefits in exchange for new revenue hikes. He also said Obama's new budget plan "really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors."
Walden specifically criticized an item in Obama's budget that would switch tax brackets and Social Security cost-of-living adjustments, which are indexed for inflation, to a "chained CPI," leading to reductions in future benefit increases.
Within 24 hours, Walden's remarks drew a reprimand from House Speaker John Boehner. And the Club for Growth, an ultra-conservative group, announced Thursday it was looking for a primary challenger against Walden.
"We always knew Greg Walden had a liberal record, but he really cemented it with his public opposition to even modest entitlement reform," said club president Chris Chocola, in a prepared statement.
"Greg Walden has voted for bailing out Wall Street, dozens of pork projects, and against cutting the spending from the Obama stimulus," Chocola added. "He even voted against blocking taxpayer subsidies for Viagra. Greg Walden should be held accountable for his anti-growth voting record as well as his anti-growth rhetoric."
After labeling Walden a "RINO" — Republican in name only — the club announced it would back a GOP challenger to Walden in the next primary.
But Walden, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, isn't concerned about the threat from a fellow Republican.
"It's an open process," he said. "Anyone can file and run if they want. If this is what motivates them to run, I don't think they will get much traction."
In his travels across the district, which includes all of Eastern Oregon, as well as Jackson County and a portion of Josephine County, Walden said he often meets financially strapped retirees who are concerned about cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
"We have heard from a lot of folks," he said. "The majority of seniors in the district would side with me on this."
The point, he said, is that the Obama budget is poorly constructed. Walden said his concern is about cuts for those who have already retired or are about to retire.
"I think the president's budget is misguided," he said. "It should not be going after Medicare and Social Security they are already receiving.
"I know it puts me at odds with some in our party, but that is what I believe," he added. "But we don't always agree on everything. We may disagree from time to time."
Walden said he supports a budget proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
"It safeguards seniors who are retired or about to retire," he said. "People going into retirement don't have much opportunity to plan if the rules are changed on them."
Meanwhile, Walden, who was chastised also by the Obama administration, said the hoopla over his remarks is par for the course in D.C.
"But it is pretty remarkable what is happening out there now," he observed.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.