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Who is blocking a grand debt deal? Democrats, too, have their limits.

With the White House preparing for negotiations Sunday over a deal on raising the debt ceiling, House Democrats say they will not support cuts in Social Security or Medicare benefits.

By Staff writer / July 9, 2011

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. discusses the debt ceiling on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday. She's among those Democrats who insist that there be no benefit cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

Alex Brandon/AP

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Washington

Republicans who refuse to consider tax increases aren’t the only obstacles to President Obama’s bid to get a significant debt deal through Congress in time to avoid default as early as Aug. 2.

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Democrats, too, have a point beyond which they will not go – cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits – and want the president to keep it in mind as he prepares for a new round of negotiations at the White House on Sunday.

The White House has asked that congressional leaders lay out their bottom line negotiating positions at the Sunday meeting.

For that reason, a closed caucus meeting on Friday was a last chance for many Democrats to signal the White House and their own leaders what it will take to win their votes, once a deal comes to the floor.

“I came to Washington to protect Social Security and Medicare, not to dismantle them,” says Rep. Jim McGovern (D) of Massachusetts. “These aren’t just programs, they represent core values of the Democratic Party. You shouldn’t be balancing the budget on the backs of seniors and poor people.”

Democrats say they don’t know what’s been discussed in closed meetings so far, but are alarmed by what they’re hearing in the corridors or reading in press reports. Republicans, too, say they are in the dark. The White House and congressional leaders have deliberately avoided discussing details before the deal is done.

But the rank and file in both parties want to make it very clear to their leaders what will fly on the floor, when it’s necessary to find a majority of 218 House votes. Democrats say they expect that Republican Speaker Boehner will need at least 100 votes from Democrats to pass a debt deal. That, they say, gives them some clout.

“The know-nothing wing of the Republican Party is going to vote against a debt ceiling agreement no matter what is in it,” says Rep. Gerald Connolly (D) of Virginia, alluding to freshmen Republicans who campaigned on a pledge to never raise the debt ceiling. “Speaker Boehner is going to need the Democratic caucus to pass this. That means that, whether he likes it or not, taxes are on the table.”

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