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Democrats cite public support, dig in on 'fiscal cliff' battle

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Campaign 2012

Buoyed by poll numbers that indicate the public will blame Republicans if the nation goes over the so-called fiscal cliff, congressional Democrats on Tuesday were comfortable to sit tight with just 26 days left to stop an avalanche of automatic tax hikes and budget cuts.

Democrats are hoping the GOP will fear the wrath of voters enough to eventually go along with their plan to avert the fiscal cliff by raising the tax rates on upper income earners from 36 percent to 39.6 percent.

"I'm not going to get into anything until they talk about the top rate going to 39.6 percent," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said when asked whether the party was ready to negotiate with the GOP.

Republicans say they are eager to stop the fiscal cliff but are waiting for Democrats to offer a plan with substantial cuts. So far, President Obama has offered a proposal to raise $1.6 trillion through tax increases, including the rate increase on top earners. His plan also includes reductions in Medicare that would bring $400 billion into the treasury. Republicans called his offer "a joke."

Democrats, however, say their plan offers sufficient compromise and they aren't budging for the GOP, which they say is being controlled by the far-right faction.

"We're not going to twist ourselves into contortions to appease a vocal minority of the Tea Party," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., explaining why Democrats are no longer negotiating.

Lawmakers and aides confirmed that the usual behind-the-scenes negotiations that traditionally bring about compromise between parties have ground to a halt, which is unusual given the Jan. 1 deadline.

"No discussions whatsoever," a top GOP aide told The Washington Examiner late Tuesday, describing the stalemate.

The snag in talks comes after the White House rejected House Speaker Boehner's counterproposal, which calls for raising $2.2 trillion by reforming the tax code and making significant cuts to discretionary and entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid. The plan does not include a rate hike.

Boehner sent the plan to the White House on Monday, but after the quick rejection from Obama, the speaker did not even take the opportunity to talk about the offer when the two men were in the same room at the White House Christmas party that evening.

In fact, Boehner steered clear of Obama's reception line during the gathering, rejecting the traditional photo with the president.

The last time Boehner spoke with Obama was in a telephone call a week ago that lasted about half an hour.

Rank-and-file Republicans, meanwhile, fear their leadership will succumb to the pressure to raise tax rates.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said the GOP is at a disadvantage in the talks because Democrats believe the public will blame the GOP if they fail.

"The president doesn't fear the fiscal cliff," King said. "And that means he can push and push and whatever the speaker might propose to the president, if he's not going to make a deal, he's not going to make a deal and nothing will change that."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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