Senate Democrats are blaming Republicans for the slow pace of the fiscal cliff negotiations, arguing that Republicans have failed to lay out the entitlement spending cuts they want to see as part of a deal.
Instead, Republicans are trying to force Democrats into negotiating with themselves and in the process take on the political burden of proposing both tax increases on the wealthy and spending cuts that could hit the middle class, a Senate Democratic leadership aide said.
Some congressional Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin, the party’s No. 2 in the Senate, have taken a hard line against including entitlement spending cuts in a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.
But a Senate Democratic leadership aide said Democrats are open to making a down payment on future spending cuts if Republicans would only tell them what they want.
“The hard line on entitlements is based on the two-step process of don’t do it now, but we are open to it next year,” said the aide, adding that Democrats aren’t going to let Republicans “head fake us into doing entitlement cuts.”
Senate Democrats say they have made their opening bid on the revenue side by pushing House Republicans to approve a Senate-passed bill to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class while raising tax rates on the wealthy.
Now, Democrats want Republicans to offer up the spending cuts they want to see – a move the GOP doesn’t seem inclined to make right now.
President Obama has argued for a balanced approach to broad deficit reduction that would include spending cuts and tax revenue increases. Now the “question is, what spending cuts will Washington Democrats accept?” said Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel.
For their part, Republicans argue that they have passed a budget that included significant entitlement reforms and now it’s up to the president to say what cuts he will support.
“What’s needed is leadership from the White House,” a House Republican leadership aide said.
And despite the anti-spending cut rhetoric coming from Democratic leaders, several Senate Democrats left plenty of wiggle room on Wednesday when asked if they’d oppose an Obama-brokered deal that included entitlement reform.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, a longtime Obama ally, said she wants to see a deal that reduces the debt by about $4 trillion over the long term but is being “stubbornly vague” about what kind of deal she would accept.
“I’m not going to be any more specific than that because once you draw a line in the sand, it just makes it harder to get a deal,” she said.
Even Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who has publicly opposed including Medicare or Medicaid cuts in a deal, refrained from saying that Democrats would reject an Obama-Boehner crafted deal that includes spending cuts. Instead, he urged the president to keep Senate Democrats in the loop so they can work something out.
“We want to be apprised all along so that we can raise objections as we go along rather than at the end so I hope we don’t get any surprise sprung on us,” he said. “If so, we may have a lot of Democrats that just won’t go along with it.”