WASHINGTON -- Democrats think they have a winning strategy in the deadlocked debt debate: casting Republicans as single-minded lunatics who will protect sweet tax rates for the rich at the expense of the nation.
That was the subtext -- indeed the outright claim, in some cases -- of various statements and strategies tried by Democratic senators Thursday in the high-stakes fight to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have been adamant that revenues cannot be raised to help deal with the enormous budget gaps, insisting on trillions of dollars in cuts.
To make the point that it could be reasonable to talk about raising revenues, Democrats have highlighted tax breaks that most Americans will never get -- including write-offs for things like thoroughbred horses, yachts and jets.
To Democrats, the one-sided approach seems, well, a bit nutty.
"It is so apparently irrational to say, 'No revenues on the table,'" said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
"We've said cuts are on the table. In fact we've stood for them. I mean, they're mirror images," he said. "How irrational would they think we are if we said, 'No cutting, just do revenues.' They'd say, 'Well you're being one-sided.'"
"Well," Schumer said, "the mirror image is exactly the same thing!"
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) pointed to the controversial decision of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to abandon the debt talks over the revenue issue.
"He threw that hot potato over to John Boehner, and said 'Now it's your turn,'" Durbin said tartly. "If we can't bring revenue to the table, we're not going to have a serious conversation about dealing with this deficit."
Democrats also contrasted that tax stance with the stakes on not raising the debt limit, which numerous economists and business leaders have said would be profound.
"Playing games with this Aug. 2 deadline endangers this recovery," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
"I have never seen anything like what Republicans are willing to risk today in these budgetary negotiations and who they are willing to risk it all for," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the head of the Democrats' Senate campaign team. She added that Republicans were playing "chicken with default."
"It seems like leader McConnell is willing to tank the economy for the sake of protecting tax breaks for oil companies, yachts, corporate jets," said Schumer, who has increasingly accused the Republicans of holding their cut-only position because they think it will hurt the economy and help their prospects in 2012.
"We don't need any more stunts," Schumer said. "We need a willingness on both sides to give a little. We've given a lot. The vice president has said more than a trillion dollars in cuts have already been identified, and that would put us far down the road towards an agreement. The question is how to make up the rest."
It's not the first time Democrats have seen insanity in the GOP debt stance. But Republicans' strategy wasn't all that different, with senators suggesting Democrats and the president are the ones with dangerous mania.
"What I'd like to briefly address today is what seems to me to be an obsession on the part of the president to raise taxes," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in a floor speech Thursday. "In fact, he is so fixed on this -- it is so important to him to raise taxes that he's willing to risk an economic crisis, knowing that Congress won't raise taxes as part of this debt ceiling increase."
"And we shouldn't," Kyl added. "Not because we're trying to protect somebody, but because higher taxes on an already weak economy would just make things worse."
With no thaw in the chilly rhetoric, Schumer still thought his side was doing OK, and said even though the past week has been rough, the GOP was getting the message.
"I think they are feeling the pressure," Schumer said. "This was not a wasted week in one very real sense: The issue of revenues was crystallized this week, the issue that there is intransigence on one side, saying 'no revenues,' was brought out strongly by the president yesterday and continues to be brought out by us."
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