As the media frenzy over the so-called fiscal cliff picks up, lawmakers are drawing their respective lines in the sand (at least publicly) with respect to what is off the negotiating table. President Barack Obama took a firm position on raising taxes for the wealthiest two percent of Americans on Wednesday, telling reporters that Congress couldn't get enough in new revenues simply by closing loopholes and eliminating deductions.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have each accepted that they could envision a final deal that included some new revenues through a comprehensive tax reform, but they were not willing to "raise taxes to turn off the sequester," as the Kentucky Republican put it. And revenues could only factor in, McConnell stressed, if Democrats conceded on serious structural reforms to entitlement programs.
"Republicans like me have said for more than a year now that we're open to new revenue in exchange for meaningful reforms to the entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our debt, so that we can reduce the deficit, protect these programs for today's seniors, and strengthen them for future generations," he said Tuesday.
On the entitlements front, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has declared Social Security changes are a non-starter for Senate Democrats, but he was less clear on whether they would accept changes to either Medicare or Medicaid. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who proved to be one of the fiercest defenders of entitlements during the 2011 talks, told reporters Wednesday that "everything was on the table" during the fiscal-cliff negotiations, but that she would ensure the programs would be protected.
"Our commitment as Democrats is that we believe that Social Security and Medicare are pillars of economic and health security for America’s seniors," she said. "They should not ... have cuts made to them in order to give tax cuts to the rich."
But the stances that lawmakers take publicly often do not pan out when the gritty process of legislative compromise moves behind closed doors. In 2011, the president was willing to make drastic changes to Medicare and Social Security without accepting much in increased revenues from the GOP leadership, and Boehner broke with the Tea Party faction of his caucus to at least offer some revenue, although marginal.
When the 2011 compromise was finally met, lawmakers were left with a fiscal-cliff scenario that played into the GOP's insistence on deficit reduction, rather than focusing on the pressing issue of job creation. If lawmakers continue train their sights on cutting the deficit and pursue a grand bargain to avoid going off the fiscal cliff, it could disproportionately impact America's most at-risk populations.
Taking a look back at what each side was willing to throw into the ring during the 2011 negotiations could provide some insight into what might be given up in order to deal with this self-inflicted deficit crisis. Take a look through a list of the parties' major proposals and earlier compromises below.