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Amid intensifying rhetoric about the looming “fiscal cliff,” little was heard Friday from members of the Minnesota congressional delegation about President Obama’s opening position on ending the impasse.
Republicans have been wrestling among themselves about abandoning the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge, with Minnesotans John Kline, Erik Paulsen and Chip Cravaack suggesting they’re willing to look at ways of raising new tax dollars by cutting deductions and credits.
But as talks progress, Democrats too could eventually face divisions over Republican demands to make significant cuts in entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Obama’s proposal on Thursday calling for more taxes and spending offered few if any concessions to Republicans, who dismissed it out of hand.
While the show goes on, Minnesotans in Congress have tended to remain bystanders. Some, including Sen. Al Franken, have contributed to the chatter about how a year-end fiscal cliff deal needs to include a comprehensive farm bill.
The most outspoken member of the Minnesota delegation – on either side – has been Minneapolis DFLer Keith Ellison, who has taken to the airwaves and cable channels as a newly re-elected co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Ellison is scheduled to appear on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday with Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who has made waves in the GOP caucus by suggesting that Republicans bow to political reality and take Obama’s offer to extend the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent of income earners, and then conclude a more sweeping deal later.
But while most Republicans are holding out for Democratic concessions on entitlement cuts, Ellison argues that no deal can get done without a “large portion” of the House Democratic Caucus. And the liberals in that caucus, he said, “will not support any deal that cuts benefits for families and seniors who rely on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”
Ellison seems to have support among many of his fellow Minnesota Democrats. While some have suggested reforms to Social Security, such as raising the income gap on payroll taxes, most seem to think that a high-pressure, weeks-long budget crisis is not the best time to deal with long-term entitlement reform.
One exception is rural Democrat Tim Walz. "I'm willing to look at anything, and that has gotten me into trouble with some on the left," he said in an interview Friday. "I think it's disingenuous of folks to complain about the tax pledge, and then say other things are off the table."
The problem, Walz said, is that Republicans have not yet put any specific cuts on the table. But Walz believes that eventually they will, and then Democrats will have to listen. "At the end of the day, Republicans are going to vote for a [tax] rate increase," he said. "With that realization sinking into people, they're probably going to want some serious changes. And my thing is if it makes econonomic sense to do so, and it helps balance the budget without crushing those who are most vulnerable, I'm certainly willing to look at it."
Another Minnesotan both sides are watching warily is centrist Democrat Collin Peterson, a fiscal hawk who has been known to side with Republicans on some budget issues. But as House members headed home for the weekend, Peterson wasn’t saying much in public.
Let the show go on.