Liberals on and off Capitol Hill agonized Thursday that supercommittee Democrats had bungled early negotiations over a budget deal and put their party in a position to be bested again by Republicans.
By proposing significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid as an early offering, liberals said the panel Democrats weakened their party’s negotiating position as Republicans, who have ceded no ground on their central anti-tax message, sat back and watched.
"My fear is that this is déjà vu all over again,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), one of the dozens of liberals who thought the White House cornered itself in the summer debt-ceiling talks by floating similar entitlement cuts to the GOP in negotiations led by Vice President Biden.
“This is essentially what happened in the Biden talks,” Welch said. “The Democrats were putting concrete proposals on the table [including entitlement cuts] and the Republicans never came forward with concrete revenues to match it.
“The Democratic side was negotiating against itself,” Welch added. “As a strategy, that won’t work.”
While some Democrats said their deficit package is evidence that they’re the more serious negotiators, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shrugged it off and remarked it was “time for everybody to get serious” about the talks.
In a memo highlighting the Republicans’ blanket opposition to new tax hikes, Boehner’s office said the Democrats’ plan is “not a serious proposal.”
“Republicans have been willing to discuss new revenues, but this offer is rooted in unacceptable tax increases, which would have a negative impact on the economy and jobs,” the memo reads.
Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee ( PCCC), a liberal activist group, echoed Welch’s message Thursday, saying the Democrats’ early offer to cut Medicare and Medicaid is “just incompetent negotiation strategy.”
“If Democrats on the [supercommittee] are proposing cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or other middle-class benefits, that is fundamentally out of step with what the 99 percent of Americans are crying out for right now,” Green said in an email. “The middle class has sacrificed enough — it’s time for Wall Street and the wealthy to finally pay their fair share, and voters need Democratic politicians to get that.”
A former House Democratic staffer sounded a similar note, saying the Democrats could use a lesson in how to squeeze more of their priorities out of the ongoing bipartisan talks.
“Though the [Democrats] won’t likely bite on Medicare offsets (i.e., bene[fit] cuts) w/out revenue, the cuts are now, nevertheless, out there,” the staffer, who is now a health policy analyst, said in an email. “Someone really should give these guys a primer on negotiating skills!?!”
The liberals are furious with the sweeping $3 trillion deficit-reduction proposal presented Tuesday by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to Republicans on the deficit panel. The plan includes hundreds of billions of dollars in entitlement cuts and more than $1 trillion in new tax hikes — a package along the lines of the “grand bargain” negotiated over the summer by President Obama and Boehner that eventually died in favor of a more modest deal focused on spending cuts.
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The proposal offered by Baucus — which was endorsed by a majority of the six Democrats on the deficit panel — features roughly $400 billion in Medicare reductions, including significant cuts to senior benefits. A number of liberal Democrats hammered the proposal this week, warning that benefit cuts under Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are a nonstarter.
“I don’t want to hear Democrats suggesting that we have those types of cuts in Medicare,” Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told The Hill on Wednesday. “I hope that’s not true.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, declined to join those critics on Thursday.
“It’s no use asking me about specific things until we see the whole package,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
The California Democrat reiterated her party’s insistence on a “balanced” deficit-reduction plan, suggesting that she and her caucus won’t support a package that fails to spread the pain of austerity across a class spectrum.
“It’s not fair to say to a senior, ‘You’re going to pay more for Social Security, and we’re not going to touch a hair on the head of the wealthiest people in our country,’ ” Pelosi said.
Democrats also hammered a Republican counteroffer that would cut the deficit by $2.2 trillion over 10 years and generate up to $640 billion in new revenue.
Consistent with the Republicans’ vows not to impose new taxes, the revenues originate from increased user fees and tax-revenue increases the GOP says will accompany an overhaul of the tax code.
Democrats said it focused too heavily on middle-class benefit cuts without balancing them out with tax hikes on the wealthy.
“As reported, Republicans’ stubborn refusal to come forth on real revenues as part of a deficit reduction package threatens any real progress in the Select Committee,” Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. “Their unwillingness to ask anything of the very wealthiest even as they propose devastating cuts to Medicare and Social Security is totally unacceptable.”
Yet liberal activists argue that the Democrats’ proposal is little better.
“This plan protects the status quo for the 1 percent while the 99 percent are expected to sacrifice vital healthcare they need to survive,” said Jim Dean, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s brother and the chairman of Democracy for America, a political action committee with 1 million members.
“Democracy for America will oppose any Democrat who votes for a plan that cuts Medicare or Medicaid.”