Liberal Democrats Won’t Compromise on Sequester Deal
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The Fiscal Times
February 24, 2013

Sequestration isn’t a done deal – not if some liberal Democratic groups have their way. 

The Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank, is pulling out all the stops to try toblock sequestration from kicking in next week and is encouraging President Obama to hang tough in insisting that Republicans support more tax increases as part of any major deficit reduction effort.

The group, headed by Neera Tanden, a former campaign adviser to Obama, released a state-by-state analysis Friday showing that the $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to begin this Friday has the potential to drag the economy back into recession and harm families by decreasing critical investments in job training, public health and public safety.

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“By rejecting measures to replace the sequester with a smarter, more balanced mix of spending cuts and new revenue, conservative members of Congress are posing a dangerous threat to our nation’s economy and middle-class families,” Tanden said in a statement. “There are two options: Protect American families and ensure the strength of our economy, or protect millionaires and special-interest groups. It is time for congressional leaders to act responsibly and face the reality that new revenue from closing wasteful tax loopholes must be a part of the equation in addressing the deficit.”

The Obama administration and congressional Republicans took turns last week pointing fingers at one another for the looming spending cuts equally apportioned between domestic and defense programs that neither side favors. But neither side, as of now, is prepared to compromise on these cuts ahead of Friday’s deadline. Obama has made much of Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s refusal to consider raising additional tax revenue as part of any long-term deficit reduction plan, even after he hinted he might support measures to slow the growth costs of Social Security and Medicare.

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Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argue that Republicans went along with increasing taxes by nearly $700 billion as part of the New Year’s Day fiscal cliff agreement – and that’s as much as they’ll concede. "The president's gotten his revenue. Period," Boehner said recently.

During a White House appearance last Wednesday with a group of emergency responders, Obama sought to turn up the heat on Boehner and McConnell to accept more in taxes.  “Republicans in Congress face a simple choice,” he said. “Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investment in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them, or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special-interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations?”

But while Obama pummels Republicans for refusing to raise taxes again, liberal Democratic groups such as CAP and liberal lawmakers just as stubbornly refuse to support any major deficit reduction package that would put a significant dent in social programs.

Case in point: The New York Observer reports that three members of New York City’s congressional delegation have signed on to a letter vowing not to back any White House bargain to avoid the sequester that includes cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Congressmen Jerry Nadler, Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez have all signed the pledge promising not to back any deal including the compromises being called for by the White House.

“Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are the great bedrocks of our middle class society and, together, constitute an essential safety net for millions of Americans,”   Nadler said. “I will fight like hell against any deficit plan that cuts these programs or fails to address our immediate jobs problem. It is unconscionable for Republicans to ask those who can least afford it – seniors, kids, our most vulnerable families – to sacrifice even more and shoulder a disproportionate burden. I do not support any deal that cuts Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits.”

The letter to the administration, which described cuts to Medicare and Social Security as almost universally opposed by voters, was originally authored by Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson and California Democratic Rep. Mark Takano. At least 20 House members have signed it. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other prominent Democrats in the House and Senate share the strong sentiment. If this group has its way, Obama will have little running room to negotiate a comprehensive package of tax and entitlement reforms and spending cuts.

“We will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits – including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost-of-living adjustments that our constituents earned and need,” the letter states. “Finally, Americans agree that there is more that must be done to require the rich and giant corporations to pay their fair share. Indeed, it is their patriotic duty to do so. As you negotiate with Republicans, you deserve to know that millions of Americans and the below signed Members of Congress stand ready to fight for [these] principles.” 

Several large progressive groups are pushing for more members of Congress to sign the letter, including the Working Families Party (WFP), Moveon, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, CREDO Action, and Social Security Works. They’re also soliciting signatures from their members to demonstrate support for the tough stance against cuts.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.