WASHINGTON -- Frustration on and off the Hill is mounting for Democrats who are worried that the newly created debt reduction "super committee" will either find itself deadlocked or end up with members of their party making more concessions than their Republican counterparts.
Even before a single member of that 12-person committee has been appointed, signs are emerging that GOP leadership will be far more intransigent during the process. Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have insisted that they won't appoint anyone in their respective conferences who are open to the idea that tax rates should be increased.
Instead of matching those statements with ideological bravado of their own, Democratic leaders have chosen to stress that the committee must be balanced in its approach. At an interview with bloggers and online reporters on Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted that there was a "very strong relationship" between House and Senate Democrats and that each caucus understood "why we are Democrats and who we are here to fight for."
"It is important for us to be as forceful as possible and as unified as possible to send a message to the American people about what the difference is here," she said, signaling that lawmakers would have a keen eye on protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid during super committee negotiations.
But when pressed to rule out specific reforms to entitlement programs, Pelosi notably declined.
"If they want to draw lines in the sand, let them look like the obstructionists," she said. "You won't see me drawing lines in the sand."
In the Senate, meanwhile, irritation with the yet-to-be-started appointment process for the committee is already growing. A Democratic aide told The Huffington Post that while leadership still considered the committee "a good idea" and hope remained that "Republicans will appoint people to the committee who approach this with open minds," early evidence suggested the opposite. Reid, in fact, is already reportedly upset with McConnell's unwillingness to approach the process in good faith. In an interview with Politico, he raised the specter of him and Pelosi actually abandoning discussions before they began.
“So what does that leave the committee to do?” Reid said. “Should Pelosi and I just not appoint and walk away?”
If the situation reads, to progressives, like a rerun of a bad movie, it does to Democratic lawmakers as well. More than one congressional office told HuffPost that the political conversation remained mired in the Republican obsession with deficit reduction. With that as a framework, they said, it's tough for Democrats to actually score political points.
And yet, not everyone seems to mind the current narrative. The White House, for one, has seen green shoots emanating from the debt ceiling deal. A Gallup poll released on Wednesday showed that conservative voters were more disappointed with the outcome than Democrats. And when pressed to respond to McConnell's unwillingness to appoint committee members who would entertain tax hikes, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney seemed to relish the opportunity to draw a contrast.
"I would note, in terms of the comments you attributed to the Senate Minority Leader, that creates a problem within his caucus, since such a substantial number of the Republicans in the Senate have supported and endorsed the ideas behind the Gang of Six proposal, which takes a very balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes $2 trillion in revenues," Carney said during Wednesday's briefing. "So it is simply -- as we saw after the passage of the House Republican budget, there is explaining that has to be done by the leaders in Washington. If they want those members who believe that we should achieve deficit reduction only on the backs of senior citizens and vulnerable Americans and the middle class, they need to explain that. And that will be ever more stark if that’s the approach they believe is the right approach as the super committee gets started."
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