As the debt-cutting "super committee" on Capitol Hill heads towards its Thanksgiving deadline with no firm proposal yet, some progressive and liberal Democrats are amping up their rhetoric, worried that their side may be willing to give up too much ground in the fight over fiscal priorities.
Proposals floated by some of the bi-partisan committee's members to slowly trim Medicare benefits and delay any new tax hikes are raising the ire of some Democratic lawmakers and liberal groups.
"I want to say to the super committee, God bless them and their work," Democratic Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski said during a speech on the floor of the Senate. "But don't do all of this on the backs of senior citizens."
Under this summer's debt ceiling deal, the super committee must find as much as $1.5 trillion in savings by Nov. 23, Congress must approve them by an up-or-down vote by Dec. 23, or across-the-board cuts in social spending and defense will automatically go into effect. As the deadline nears, a few details of proposals from both sides have begun to trickle out.
One possibility that has raised the ire of Democrats is the so-called "chained consumer price index"—a lower estimate of inflation—which would gradually decrease Social Security payments over time while also increasing taxes. Democrats have backed the idea, but only on the condition that it be part of a big compromise with deep concessions from Republicans, according to aides.
But some Democrats, including Mikulski, are expressing outrage that the idea is even being considered.
"The 'chained CPI' is not a technical fix," Mikulski said. "It will actually fundamentally restructure Social Security, and it could very well have a chain reaction, pushing old people into poverty."
Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said he didn't think the 83-member group of lawmakers would support a compromise deal which includes the chained CPI.
"That's a difficult to impossible sell to people in the Progressive Caucus and others outside the Progressive Caucus," he said.
Progressive groups and lawmakers are also mobilizing against another idea that's been floated—a package which includes up-front budget cuts but with tax hikes that would phase in a year later. Last week, the Democrats offered Republicans a plan which would make about $1 trillion in budget cuts, and would also effectively extend the Bush tax cuts permanently, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by U.S. News.
In exchange, the Democrats asked for about $1 trillion in new tax revenues by eliminating various tax breaks in the personal income and corporate tax codes. But rather than make those changes now, the deal would task several Congressional committees with finding those savings by next year, or face yet another series of triggers.
The idea of ensured budget cuts now but only promised tax revenues later has enraged many progressives. After details of this plan were revealed, the liberal group MoveOn.org urged its members to call super committee members and oppose the idea.
"That's a recipe for total disaster," the group said. Grijalva agreed, claiming that promises to raise taxes later—even if backed by a trigger—were unacceptable to him.
"That's a bait and switch that has been used very effectively by Republicans this session," he says.
Whether or not it's a ploy, there are other reasons why super committee members may be looking at a delayed tax hike. In the past, comprehensive tax reform has taken months to design, and the super committee has only days before it must finalize a plan. The triggers which the Democrats suggested in the plan were tilted towards wealthy Americans, including limits on tax deductions for high income earners and a "deficit reduction charge" which would have to be applied before using tax credits.
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