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Walden comments create firestorm

Oregon's 2nd District Congressman Greg Walden took a drubbing from all corners Thursday, including his own party, after he criticized President Barack Obama for trying to slow the growth of Social Security benefits.

His comments sparked a rebuke from House Speaker John Boehner and a threat from a conservative group to mount a primary challenge against the Republican from Hood River.

Walden had 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.

Obama's new budget plan "really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors," Walden said. He made his comments Wednesday during an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Political heads turned. Walden chairs the committee responsible for next year's GOP House campaigns. And Republicans have portrayed themselves as courageous-but-responsible advocates of slowing the growth of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called Walden's remarks a "flagrantly ridiculous and cynical attempt to disown a proposal that emanated from Republican leaders."

On Thursday morning, MSNBC host and former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough called on Republicans to condemn Walden's remarks. The conservative Club for Growth said it will back a GOP challenger to Walden in the next primary and labeled him a "RINO," — Republican In Name Only.

By midday, Boehner had seen enough. "I've made it clear that I disagree with what Chairman Walden said," the speaker told reporters. In fact, he said, Obama's "modest reforms" are "the least we must do to begin to solve the problems of Social Security."

In his comments on CNN, Walden linked the president's Social Security proposal to health care reform, which has come in for repeated GOP attacks in part because of limits it imposes on Medicare payments.

"I thought it's very intriguing in that his budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors, if you will," Walden said. "We haven't seen all the detail yet, so we'll look at it. But I'll tell you, when you're going after seniors the way he's already done on Obamacare, taking $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare, and now coming back at seniors again — I think you're crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care "…"

Walden added: "I think he's going to have a lot of pushback from some of the major senior organizations and Republicans as well."

Instead, it was Walden who got the first pushback from Republicans.

"We always knew Greg Walden had a liberal record, but he really cemented it with his public opposition to even modest entitlement reform," Club for Growth president Chris Chocola said in a statement. "Greg Walden has voted for bailing out Wall Street, dozens of pork projects, and against cutting the spending from the Obama stimulus. 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."

The statement went on to say, "Congressman Walden represents a district in which Governor Mitt Romney received 57 percent of the vote, but has a dismal 62 percent lifetime score on the Club for Growth's Congressional Scorecard."

The Club for Growth added Walden to its PrimaryMyCongressman.com website, which encourages conservative Republicans to challenge incumbents in their primaries.

Walden could not be reached for comment. There were no statements posted by him or his website or released to the media from his office.

The attacks on Walden were particularly notable given his position as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the group responsible for formulating campaign strategy for GOP House members.

The Democrats' counterpart to the NRCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was quick to join in the fray Thursday:

"National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden must retract and apologize for his outrageous, breathtaking hypocrisy in attacking President Obama's budget and reforms to Social Security that his own Republican leadership has been demanding for months," the DCCC said in a statement.

Despite his silence in the wake of the firestorm, Walden did not appear to be backing down from anyone Thursday. NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said Walden supports the GOP's proposed entitlement reforms but not Obama's.

"He disagrees with President Obama's political plan that hurts current seniors just so he can pay for more wasteful spending," Bozek said.

Later Thursday afternoon, the NRCC released another statement:

—President Obama should apologize for offering the American people a budget that doesn't balance and hurts seniors," NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said. "Democrats have zero credibility when they themselves are the ones who spent two years unsuccessfully attacking the Ryan Plan rather than coming up with a plan to grow our economy."

Material from The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal was incorporated into this report.