Bases fret as leaders talk of deals on ‘fiscal cliff,’ immigration reform

Anxiety is rising in the bases of both political parties about the deals their leaders might strike on fiscal policy and immigration in the months after the election.

President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress have struck a conciliatory tone since Election Day, pledging to work together on issues like the “fiscal cliff” and immigration reform.

ADVERTISEMENT
But while the talk of “shared sacrifice” and “compromise” might be music to the ears of voters, it is being received with alarm by the most strident voices on the left and right.

The pressure will force a delicate balancing act in the negotiations between Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Both men must balance concerns about their legacies with the need to hold their parties together behind a “grand bargain” on the debt.

“Just because Speaker Boehner and President Obama got reelected doesn't necessarily mean they can dictate terms to members of their caucus,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Lawmakers on both sides have genuine ideological objections to some of the proposals being floated in Washington, and will have to contend with primary challengers if they are seen as compromising on their core beliefs.

On the left, many activists and lawmakers fear Obama will betray them in a second term by agreeing to cut Social Security and Medicare.

One of the more vocal opponents of entitlement cuts is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who says he has received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that Social Security benefits will not be touched in a deficit deal.

"In the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Wall Street and corporate America and virtually all Republicans are working on a deficit-reduction plan to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while lowering tax rates for the wealthy and large corporations. Sadly, some Democrats are also engaged in this effort," Sanders said in a letter to supporters.

"The idea of balancing the budget on the backs of some of the most vulnerable people in our country — the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor — is not only morally grotesque, it is extremely bad economics."

Top labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and AFSCME President Lee Saunders, have sent a letter to Obama and congressional leaders demanding a budget deal that "does not cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits and does not shift costs to beneficiaries or the states."

"Millions of seniors, children, people with disabilities and others depend on these vital programs, and they must not be cut," they wrote. "Voters loudly and clearly spoke up for these programs."

Meanwhile, Republicans worry they will be coerced into voting for legislation that would violate their promises never to raise tax rates.

“The president may think that he’s got a mandate, but so do we. The president may have won a second term, but I won a third term,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told The Washington Post.

Richard Viguerie, a top activist and chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, said at a news conference with Tea Party leaders on Wednesday that conservative activists would work to ensure congressional Republicans did not compromise their principles in debates over the tax increases and spending cuts in the “fiscal cliff.”

“Conservatives and Tea Partyers are just sick and tired of Republican leaders compromising on the state and national level with Democrats that grow the size of government,” Viguerie said. “We are going to hold their feet to the fire.”

Republicans also fear that congressional leaders will give away too many concessions on a comprehensive immigration reform package in a bid to repair the party’s image with Latino voters.

Both Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have indicated in the days following the election that immigration reform will be a top priority. Boehner said he is “confident” that Republicans can reach a deal with the White House.

But Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said he is “concerned that Speaker Boehner is getting ahead of House Republicans” on immigration reform.

“There’s been zero discussion of this issue within the conference, and I’m urging the Speaker to talk with House Republicans before making pledges on the national news,” he said in a statement released Friday. “The first thing we need is for President Obama to finally enforce current immigration law and strengthen our borders. To take up any other agenda is bad policy for the American people and bad politics for Republicans. The Speaker needs to pull back on this issue and stop negotiating in public.”

Both Republicans and Democrats in leadership have looked this week to assuage concerned members from the bases of their caucus. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Thursday there was “no truth” to indications the GOP would concede ground on tax increases.

Still, leaders are preparing for a struggle to achieve the so-far elusive deal that could satisfy enough of their deeply divided colleagues to pass both chambers of Congress.

“If President Obama and Speaker Boehner had greater control of their caucuses, they could have struck a deal in 2011,” said Kondik. “Finding enough votes is going to be hard for both Republicans and Democrats.”