House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-MD (photo: NASA HQ via Flickr)

Yesterday House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer seems to have came out strongly against any debt ceiling plan that cuts Social Security or Medicare benefits. From The Hill:

“We have made it very clear that we have no intention of supporting [a bill] that cuts beneficiaries’ benefits,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday. The comments represent a subtle but significant change in Hoyer’s approach to the negotiating table. As recently as last week, the Democratic whip was being careful not to rule out any policy options during the contentious debt talks — a position shared by President Obama.

The new-found opposition to benefit cuts from Hoyer would be a welcome development — if it is actually a true opposition to all cuts. The problem is that House Democrats have been flirting with cutting Social Security by changing the cost of living adjustment (COLA), while at the same time pretending this plan to give people on Social Security smaller and smaller checks every year doesn’t count as a “cut.” As Nancy Pelosi said recently (via CBS News):

When asked if changing the Social Security formula for cost of living adjustments was a de facto benefit cut, Pelosi did not directly answer. “No. Cutting benefits is exactly that. Cutting benefits,” Pelosi said. “There’s concern in my caucus about what would happen with the CPI (consumer price index). Some think it is a benefit cut, others do not.

Similarly, the Gang of Six is already trying to say that changing the COLA is not a benefit cut, by claiming a shift to the Chained-CPI would just be adopting a “more accurate measure of inflation.” The real danger facing Social Security is not that Congress will approve something they openly acknowledge is a cut to benefits. The real threat right now is that they will approve a big stealth cut by changing the COLA and simply lie by saying that isn’t really a cut.

If Hoyer will publicly admit that changing the COLA is an obvious cut in benefits then his new stance is positive news. Without that statement about COLA, however, all Hoyer’s statement is a cynical empty gesture to score political points, which in the end could make this COLA cut to Social Security all the more likely.

I called Hoyer’s office this morning to ask if he considers cutting the COLA a benefit cut, but haven’t received a response.