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Seven days left: Is super committee ball now in Democrats' court?

Following a GOP proposal on the deficit-cutting 'super committee' to raise tax revenues, Republicans say it's the Democrats' turn to show they're serious by making cuts in entitlement spending.

By Staff writer / November 17, 2011

Microphones and tape recorders reach out for comments by Super committee member Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, after he and other Democratic members of the deficit-cutting 'super committee' finished a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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With less than seven full days left before its deadline, the deficit-cutting “super committee” appears to be at an impasse, now focusing on how far Democrats are willing to go to roll back entitlement spending.

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The six Republicans on the 12-member deficit-reduction committee have already offered what they say amounts to $250 billion in increased tax revenues – a risky political move because it violates an antitax pledge that most GOP lawmakers have signed. Now, they say, it’s time for Democrats to take comparable political risks on entitlements.

But for Democrats, support for entitlements is as much of a litmus test as tax cuts are for Republicans, and the super committee Democrats’ rank-and-file colleagues, as well as powerful outside groups, are turning on the heat to resist entitlement cuts.

So far, the Democrats don’t appear to be budging. Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington, who cochairs the panel, said Thursday that Democrats are still waiting for Republicans to make further concessions on revenue, or tax hikes.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says Democrats have shown a capacity to reform entitlements when they cut $500 billion in Medicare spending as part of the 2010 health-care reform. But “if the plan is to extend the Bush tax cuts and to repeal the Medicare guarantee for our seniors, well, that's not balanced and that's a place we cannot go,” she said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Individual Democrats on the panel, most notably Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, have discussed the prospect of raising the eligibility age for Medicare or charging more to those who can afford it, but only if Republicans agree to more robust tax hikes, according to unconfirmed accounts of the deliberations.

But GOP leaders on and off the super committee say Democrats have yet to rally around a proposal. “There is only one proposal on the table in the committee, and that came from the six Republican members that outlined what we’d be willing to do,” said House Speaker John Boehner at a briefing on Thursday.

“There have been discussions amongst individual members, but it’s very clear to me that there has never been a Democratic position – not one. Not one time have they coalesced around a plan,” he added.

But even the prospect of cuts to entitlements is a red flag to many Democrats, wary that support for entitlement cuts by Democrats on the super committee breaks faith with seniors and jeopardizes prospects for Democrats to hold the Senate or take back the House in 2012.

At a packed briefing on Thursday – replete with alarm clock props – top Senate liberals sought to send a message to the super committee to “wake up!” on the need to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid from deficit cuts.

“Welcome to Occupy the Super Committee!” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland shouted in a Senate hearing room packed with activists who also lined the halls waiting to get into Thursday’s “town hall meeting” in defense of Social Security and Medicare.

“We are here today to send a message to the super committee, Congress, and the president of the United States: Do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, and do not cut Medicaid,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders (I) of Vermont, who organized the event, in a statement.

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