Rep. Greg Walden found himself in hot water with fellow Republicans last week for deviating from the party line while responding to President Obama's proposal on Social Security. More power to him.
What a congressman from Eastern Oregon says on a national issue wouldn't ordinarily attract much notice, but Walden is not an ordinary Republican congressman. He's chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, charged with electing Republicans to House seats in 2014. That makes him the fifth-ranking member of the House majority leadership.
He's also the representative of nearly 700,000 people, many of them rural and relatively low-income, who will rely on Social Security in retirement. It's clear from his reaction to Obama's proposal that Walden hasn't forgotten his responsibility to those constituents, which ought to outweigh his responsibility to the House Republican power structure.
Walden got into trouble during an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. He told Blitzer Obama's plan was "trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors" by changing the cost-of-living adjustment formula to slow the growth in benefits. Obama offered that shift to a "chained" Consumer Price Index, which the Republican Party has called for, in exchange for new revenue, which the GOP opposes.
Walden's short jaunt off the reservation brought him a backlash not only from House Speaker John Boehner and from Democrats, but from the right-wing group Club for Growth, which branded Walden a RINO (Republican in name only) and vowed to seek a primary challenger for him in the next election.
Walden was unapologetic, saying he needs to represent his constituents. He said he favors entitlement reform, but not if it takes benefits from those already receiving them.
Walden needn't worry. He represents one of the safest seats in the country for a Republican, and Oregon voters generally take a dim view of out-of-state money telling them how they should vote.
The whole episode was classic Washington posturing, putting the emphasis on perception over substance.
The truth is, Walden's position is probably closer to that of most Americans than his party's leaders, who continue to refuse any discussion of revenue increases even when they are coupled with entitlement cuts, as the president has offered.
The House leadership should spend more time crafting a coherent response to Obama's proposal and less time worrying about a colleague who agrees with them in principle but refuses to walk in lock-step with them.