Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra on Wednesday said lawmakers should consider every option to solve the fiscal cliff only to backtrack moments later by arguing against reforming Social Security or Medicare.
"Everything should be on the table. Period," said Becerra, the vice chairman of the Democratic caucus.
He then quickly contradicted himself by arguing that Social Security shouldn't be targeted because it doesn't contribute to the deficit and the Affordable Care Act has already adequately reformed Medicare.
The comments came after Democrats met with White House economic adviser Gene Sperling at the Captiol this morning. Becerra and other Democrats emerged from the meeting optimsitic that a deal could be struck pointing to a desire to avert the looming fiscal cliff and a top Republican's call yesterday for a tax deal.
But neither Becerra nor Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut would elaborate on specifics of the conversation.
"I think Gene Sperling did a great job of setting in a pretty clear way the landscape that we face in the next five weeks, not that he gave the actual roadmap, but the landscape is pretty clear," Becerra told reporters after the meeting.
Larson pointed to comments from Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma who called on his party to extend tax cuts to everyone but the wealthiest Americans as a sign that the parties are lurching toward a deal.
Larson also compared today's talks to the debt and super committee negotiations, saying that the proximity of the fiscal cliff is focusing leaders on finding a way to avoid the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that take effect in the new year.
"I think there's far greater optimism because there's a true crisis on hand and everything has been compressed into time and is awaiting before us. And as Xavier pointed out, Tom Cole's comments today were very encouraging," Larson said.
Both Larson and Becerra criticized anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist and his pledge not to raise taxes that many Republicans have signed. They also praised Cole, who urged his colleagues to consider higher rates for top earners.
Cole, who told the Alley he considers Norquist a friend, said the expiration of the Bush tax cuts creates a problem for Republicans. Rates are set to go up whether the GOP votes for a hike or not. So there's no conflict with the spirit of the pledge.
"We are in a dilemma. They're going up anyway. … If doing nothing raises taxes more than doing something, I think I'd be in favor of doing something," Cole said.
Larson called on tax rates for those making more than $250,000 to go up and said Republicans don't want to see middle-class Americans' taxes go up.
"Where we disagree let us push that off. Where we agree let us embrace," he said.