WASHINGTON -- Suddenly thrust into a crucial role in the debt ceiling negotiations, House Democratic leaders on Friday continued to insist that their votes shouldn't be taken for granted while laying out some broad parameters of what could win their support for a debt ceiling compromise.
Complaining that they have been largely sidelined in negotiations between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the lawmakers relayed concerns that they will be presented with untenable choice come the debt-ceiling deadline: either accept a package of harsh cuts or be pinned for a government default. And while all recognized the severity of fallout default could bring, they said that they should not be expected to simply pass any plan the White House presents.
"I am concerned that the extent to which [Obama] moves right could put too much distance between him and Democrats, and we need not get fractured over this," Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), assistant Democratic leader, told HuffPost, adding that he could envision a scenario in which a majority of Democrats simply rejected the debt ceiling legislation.
In a sign that there was still room to negotiate, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that her caucus was "willing to bite the bullet and make serious cuts in discretionary spending, that could go to a trillion dollars or more." Additionally, Pelosi laid out a scenario in which the party would be able to sign off on $2.5 trillion in spending reductions over the course of 10 years, without including revenue raisers as part of the package.
The package that she envisioned did not deviate from the current party proposition. It would, rather, rely on a different way of accounting for savings. In addition to the $1.5 trillion in spending cuts that have been pinpointed in conversations led by Vice President Joe Biden, lawmakers would also count roughly $1 trillion in savings that would come from the drawdowns of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add to that savings from "non-health mandatories" (i.e. entitlement programs outside of Medicare and Medicaid) and Pelosi said the package of cuts could hit $2.5 trillion.
That figure sounds promising on paper. But even Pelosi admitted that the political lift will be difficult. Republicans have refused to count savings that come from the Overseas Contingency Fund (the account that pays for Iraq and Afghanistan), arguing that a change in funding there is not really a cut if it comes without any policy change.
A persistent problem in the current debt ceiling discussions has been that each side continutes to measure and define cuts differently. Sources close to the negotiations say that Obama, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) all use different accounting for savings when discussing a possible deal.
"I don't think the Republicans are going to accept that,” said Pelosi of counting the so-called peace dividend. “So whatever they would want to accept over-and-above that would have to be something, I think, down the road. And that would be treating entitlements and revenue."
Rank-and-file Democrats are troubled with the lack of details on the negotiations, although they insist that Pelosi is sharing all the information she can. A number of Democrats said they have been given very little information from the White House, even though they will be expected to supply votes in favor of a deal package.
"I think Democrats in the House are being left out to some extent because we're in the minority, but that's not going to work if they need our votes to pass something," Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told reporters.
But Republicans in the House ultimately have the responsibility to pass the deal, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) said.
"They've got enough votes to pass this thing," he said.