ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: There’s a reason it’s called the "third rail" of politics.
Two days after House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer invited members of both parties to join him in launching a Social Security reform effort, the liberal group Campaign for America’s Future — which helped lead the opposition to President Bush’s reform efforts in 2005 — is publicly calling on him to cease and desist.
"Rep. Hoyer wants to put cuts in Social Security benefits on the table. He argues that cutting Social Security benefits will help address America’s long term deficits. This is bad policy and worse politics," Robert Borosage, the campaign’s co-director, said in a statement today.
"In reality, America does not have an entitlements problem. It has a broken health care system. The entirety of our long term debt problem is caused by soaring health care costs." Borosage, a veteran liberal activist, goes on to call it "ruinous politics."
In language that’s particularly sharp, given that this is a liberal group communicating publicly the No. 2 Democrat in the House, he continues: "Keep on this track, Rep. Hoyer, and you will get badly burned."
Hoyer, D-Md., has been working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to identify a bipartisan group of lawmakers who are willing to touch Social Security this year.
He delivered a speech Wednesday where he outlined some possible changes to the retirement system: "We can bring in more revenues. We can restrain the growth of benefits, particularly for higher-income workers, while we strengthen the safety net for lower-income workers. And/or we can raise the retirement age, recognizing that our life expectancy is significantly higher today. What is missing here is not ideas — it is political will."
Borosage’ statement seems designed to scare off potential Democratic allies in a reform effort that would require heavy political lifting even in the best of economic circumstances.
It’ also telling that Borosage is focusing on healthcare — President Obama’s top domestic priority for the year — in nudging Congress away from taking on Social Security. UPDATE: From Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant: “Majority Leader Hoyer gave this speech to start a real, honest conversation about the challenges we are facing, and hopes that all groups will engage constructively in this discussion.”