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House Democrats Leave Wiggle Room on Debt

House Democrats on Friday said they remain united against GOP demands for massive spending cuts as part of a debt ceiling deal and want revenue raisers as part of any agreement.

But most Members on Friday were also careful not to draw a hard line as Senate leaders continue working on an agreement that could emerge as the fail-safe for raising the debt ceiling ahead of Aug. 2.

“We continue to say to the president, ‘Congratulations, we’re proud of the work you’re doing and glad that it does not reduce benefits for Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not open to initiatives that would strengthen” entitlement programs, the California Democrat said. “But we are not reducing the deficit and [giving] tax cuts to the wealthy on the backs of our Social Security and Medicare recipients.”

Still, several Democrats emerged from the meeting concerned that they might be forced to vote on the proposal being developed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which might force them to sacrifice core legislative priorities in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

 “We are not ready to give up on Democratic values,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) “The consensus is that Harry Reid needs to start working with our leadership and not working with the Republican leadership. That is a strong consensus.”

Reid is currently in talks with McConnell to modify a last-ditch proposal the GOP leader unveiled Tuesday. Under the McConnell plan, Obama would be given authority to raise the debt limit in three installments unless Congress passes a resolution of disapproval and is able to overcome any presidential veto. The plan also would require Obama to propose spending cuts, but the debt ceiling increase would take place regardless of whether Congress enact the cuts. Reid is in talks with McConnell to change the plan to make it more amenable to Democrats.

“McConnell is very clever,” DeFazio said. “He set up an intricate, multitiered trap to deliver on his promise to get Obama out of office and devastate the Democrats. We see it as a trap.”

Other Democrats are warming to the McConnell plan, as they seek to avoid a government default after Aug. 2 — the date the Treasury Department has said the U.S. will run out of money to service the debt. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said he is concerned Democratic leaders and the president might have to entertain the Senate plan in order to raise the debt ceiling and avoid the potentially catastrophic economic fall out.   

“I think they are figuring, ‘We have to raise the debt ceiling, so we don’t have any choice but to do it on their terms,’” Moran said.  “And that is why we are at a disadvantage because we do care about a default.”

But Moran also said the likely cuts under the plan would be devastating.

House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said he believes the McConnell plan “essentially passes the buck,” and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) reiterated his push for a clean debt limit vote.

But Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) said there are some Democrats “willing to look at some iteration of [the] McConnell” plan.

“I think so,” she said, adding that “a number of concerns were raised about” the idea.

 “We are not going to accept any kind of a deal that doesn’t include revenues, [or] that jeopardizes Medicare and Social Security,” she said.

Others said the deficit reduction package and the raising of the debt ceiling should be handled separately.

A clean debt ceiling increase is “clearly the best way to do it,” Levin said.

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