WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid said Tuesday he would consider changes in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security if they were part of a $4 trillion "grand bargain" of spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the nation's debt.
The comments by the Senate majority leader from Nevada mark the first time he has said he would be open to altering Social Security. He has been a staunch defender of the entitlement, saying it should be "off the table" as Congress considers ways to lower the deficit.
But as President Barack Obama in recent days has said he would be open to including the social programs in a blockbuster compromise that could reduce government borrowing by $4 trillion over the next decade, Reid said he also would be willing to consider changes, but only under limited circumstances.
"I only would look at Medicare and Medicaid if there is a 'grand bargain' of more than $4 trillion that has significant revenue raisers," Reid said. "I will not touch Medicare and Medicaid for some simple little deal where we get nothing that is beneficial to the country. Medicare and Medicaid should not be tampered with unless there is a grand bargain.
"Social Security, same as Medicare and Medicaid."
Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had discussed a $4 trillion agreement as part of a deal to increase the government's debt limit. In a nutshell, Democrats would agree to curbing entitlements for the poor and seniors while Republicans would agree to allow income tax rates to increase for people earning more than $200,000.
On Social Security, Obama's proposal included slowing the growth in benefits by changing the way cost of living adjustments are calculated.
Obama has said he still wanted to pursue a $4 trillion deal even as key Republicans, such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have rejected it and as Boehner himself has moved away from it as well. Republicans are urging deficit savings of between $2 trillion and $2.5 trillion that would be built around spending cuts but not include tax increases.
Reid said any talk on a major deal is moot.
"There is no need to talk about a grand bargain because that has been trashed by Cantor and (Senate Minority Whip Jon) Kyl, and I haven't heard any wild applause from anyone else in the Republicans," Reid said.
Plus, Reid said, "Boehner walked out on it, so let's not spend a lot of time on a grand bargain."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.