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Top Democrat urges progressives to deal on 'fiscal cliff'

November 27, 2012|By Lisa Mascaro | This post has been updated and corrected, as indicated below.
  • Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) urged progressives Tuesday to support cuts to entitlement programs in order to avoid the "fiscal cliff."
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) urged progressives Tuesday… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

WASHINGTON – A top Democrat pressured fellow progressives Tuesday to support – rather than fight – a far-reaching budget deal that includes cuts to entitlement programs after resolving  the upcoming fiscal cliff.

“We can't be so naive to believe that just taxing the rich will solve our problems,” said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “Put everything on the table. Repeat. Everything on the table.”

The assistant majority leader’s speech at the influential Center for American Progress comes at a pivotal moment in budget talks between the White House and Congress. Progressive and labor groups have warned President Obama against cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs and to instead focus on raising tax revenue in the administration’s negotiations with congressional Republicans.

The White House and Capitol Hill are working to prevent the combination of automatic tax hikes and deep spending cuts coming at year’s end – what economists have warned would be a $500-billion hit to the economy that could spark another recession.

QUIZ: How much do you know about the 'fiscal cliff'?

Durbin, a top progressive, has long angled for a broad deficit-reduction deal after having served on the White House’s nonpartisan fiscal commission that devised $4 trillion in new taxes and spending cuts to curb the nation’s debt load. Experts say such a large package is needed to stop record deficits and improve the nation’s fiscal outlook.

In remarks that strayed from his prepared comments, Durbin told the story of a labor leader who questioned his interest in serving on that 2010 panel, asking, “What is a nice progressive like you doing in a place like that?”

Durbin responded by saying it was better to have a seat at the table, a position he reiterated as he tried to prevent a schism among Democrats’ traditional allies while talks continue toward the year-end deadline.

“Progressives cannot afford to stand on the sidelines in this fiscal debate and deny the obvious,” Durbin said.

Already, a coalition of liberal groups is running ads warning Obama against striking a deal with Republicans that would slash social safety net programs while allowing tax breaks for wealthier households to continue.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that negotiations over Social Security should occur separately from deficit negotiations.

"We should address the drivers of the deficit," he told reporters, "and Social Security is not currently a driver of the deficit."

[For the Record, 6:02 p.m. PST  Nov. 27: This post has been updated to include the latest reaction from the White House. In addition, the lead has been corrected to make clear that Durbin wants the entitlement negotiations separate from a deal on the fiscal cliff.]

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