Durbin sees ‘skeletal’ agreement ahead of White House meeting

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday that he sees the outlines of a bipartisan deal on a large-scale deficit-reduction package coming into place.

“I think we have basically the skeletal outline of an agreement of what we can reach, but it takes the political will,” Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, told Bloomberg television. “We can do this, and we can do this on a bipartisan basis.”

Durbin spoke a few hours before he and other congressional leaders are to meet with President Obama at the White House for a discussion on the debt-ceiling talks. Obama is expected to ask leaders to embrace a deficit-reduction package totaling $4 trillion over 10 years that would include changes to entitlement programs.

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Durbin said he backs the effort to reach a sweeping agreement rather than a short-term deal.

“I was afraid we were going to get stuck with a mini-deal, and then it would become a mini-mini-deal, and then it would be dismissed by the public and by those who are looking to the future of our economy,” Durbin said.

While Republicans are showing new signs of flexibility on inclusion of new revenues rather than focusing exclusively on spending cuts, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday said the Democratic push to kill a series of tax breaks and loopholes must be coupled with tax cuts elsewhere.

Durbin and Democrats oppose the revenue-neutral approach.

“That is a zero-sum. If we are going to cut loopholes and then give tax cuts at the same time, we don’t make any progress on reducing the deficit,” Durbin said.

Democrats want Republicans to agree to end a series of tax breaks for major oil companies and a suite of other deductions.

“At the end of the day we have got to have a net positive flow of revenue into our budget so that we can bring it to a better position, get away from this deficit that we are currently facing,” Durbin said, taking aim at what he called over $1 trillion worth of “loathsome” deductions and other credits.

Durbin also said that he’s ready to put Social Security and Medicare changes on the table.

“I will put Social Security on the table as long as several things are clear. Number one, any savings in Social Security goes to make Social Security stronger longer,” said Durbin, who cautioned that he was only speaking for himself.

“Secondly, we have got to make certain that the benefit structure that people really count on, those in lower- and middle-income categories, will be protected and enhanced,” he added.

On Medicare, Durbin said any changes must protect basic benefits, while noting there are savings to be found to address costs that are “spinning out of control.”