WASHINGTON -- Republicans may be accusing President Obama of "scare tactics" in saying a default could halt Social Security checks, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says some in the GOP may actually prefer stiffing the elderly.
"I've heard some on the other side say we should pay the Chinese government before we send out a Social Security check," Pelosi said, even as she argued that leaders need to worry about reaching a debt agreement before focusing on who gets hurt if they don't.
"We do have to honor our debt," Pelosi said. "But we have to fight very hard to make sure we don't have to make those kind of choices.
Pelosi's China charge referred to legislation offered by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have ensured government holders of U.S. debt get paid first. Her words were sparked by a National Republican Senatorial Committee political memo released Wednesday for GOP Senate candidates. It accused the president of scaring seniors by telling CBS in an interview they might not get checks on Aug. 3, a day after the deadline for hiking the country's $14.3 trillion debt limit.
And it alleged the administration might go further than a TV warning and use federal resources to scare seniors even more.
"The Obama Administration may go so far as to send letters to Social Security and Medicare recipients, or to federal employees, including members of our armed forces, in the days ahead claiming that they may not receive their due compensation and benefits," said the memo from NRSC boss Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
"All of this would be done under the guise of official government business -- and a cost of tens of thousands of tax dollars -- but with a very clear political purpose," the memo charged.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee head Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) answered Cornyn's charge by agreeing that the idea of not paying seniors is scary. But she argued that it was Republicans who have left the country facing that prospect by walking away from talks and catering to the right wing of their party, which wants no hike in the debt ceiling at all.
"The possibility that seniors could be denied Social Security benefits is frightening," Murray said. "Rather than accuse the president of scare tactics, my Republican colleagues should tell the extreme voices in their own party that it is time to act responsibly."
The preemptive NRSC memo could be read as a sign that Republican campaigns are sensitive to the possibility that their party will be blamed for causing untold pain to retirees and destroying the credit of the United States.
As far as Obama raising the specter of unpaid seniors, Democrats say it's just a fact that some people will go begging when the Treasury cannot borrow, and the country's expenditures exceed its revenues by about 40 percent.
"I think the president has gone out of his way not to demagogue on this issue," said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.). "But I think he has an obligation to the public and the American people to talk about the sinful ramifications of the Republican proposals.
"The fact that that comes up in the conversation is not demagoging. It's just a realistic assessment of the sinful ramifications of an irresponsible proposal," he added.
Pelosi further argued that even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell knows the debt limit must be raised, pointing to his proposal to give Obama the authority to raise it in increments, with Congress holding the option to disapprove.
"What Leader McConnell has put on the table recognizes that we must pass the debt ceiling -- that we must do that," Pelosi said. "So it has that merit."