Centrist Dems lying low on deficit negotiations to avoid 2014 backlash

Senate Democratic centrists, whom Grover Norquist describes as the “hostages” in the tax debate, are lying low and keeping quiet about competing proposals from President Obama and House GOP leaders.

These centrists have declined to endorse Obama’s opening offer to raise taxes by $1.6 trillion, twice the size of the tax increase most of them voted for in July. 

ADVERTISEMENT
They have also held their fire on House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE’s (R-Ohio) plan, released Monday, that would raise $800 billion in tax revenues and cut $1.2 trillion in spending, which is closer to the ratio of the Bowles-Simpson plan popular with many of them this Congress. 

“What I’m doing on all of those fiscal cliff-type issues is just waiting to see what package we put together,” said Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood Ex-Sen. Landrieu joins law and lobby firm MORE (D), who faces reelection in Republican-leaning Arkansas in 2014. 

Pryor said he wanted to see more detail in BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE’s plan. 

“Just sort of general and vague statements about what he might support at some point — doesn’t really move the ball very far down the road,” Pryor said of Boehner’s plan. He said he also wanted to know more about Obama’s blueprint before passing judgment. 

Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, whose anti-tax pledge is a significant obstacle to a deficit-reduction deal, has rested his hopes on Democratic centrists facing reelection balking at a major tax increase. 

“Our hostages are the 20 Democrats up in ’14. We’ll send them either piece by piece or one at a time over to the White House to negotiate,” Norquist told The Hill in an interview earlier this year. 

Democrats running for reelection in swing- and Republican-leaning states know they will be pummeled by millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads from third-party groups for any votes they cast to raise taxes. 

Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerOvernight Cybersecurity: Calls grow for encryption panel Homeland Security Committee pushes encryption commission in new report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Va.), who faces voters in 2014, declined to endorse the substance of the plan Secretary Timothy Geithner circulated on Capitol Hill last week. 

“I don’t know if that ratio is going to end up being final,” he said of Obama’s call for a 2-to-1 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts. 

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE, another Democrat up for reelection in a red state, Louisiana, said Boehner’s offer “is better than no proposal.”

“I know that Speaker Boehner is really trying, so any proposal is better than no proposal,” she said. 

Senate Democrats face as difficult an electoral map in 2014 as they did in 2012. It took weeks for Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill MORE (D-Nev.) to persuade Sen. Michael BennetMichael BennetCruz-backed candidate wins GOP primary in Colorado Colorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Ted Cruz chooses sides in Colorado Senate primary MORE (D-Colo.) to take the job as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

Senate Democrats have to defend 20 seats, while Republicans have only 13 up for reelection. 

Obama’s negotiating position, however, has been helped by an emerging consensus among Democratic centrists that income tax rates on the wealthy must be increased in order to reach a deal. 

Sen. Tim JohnsonTim JohnsonFormer GOP senator endorses Clinton after Orlando shooting Housing groups argue Freddie Mac's loss should spur finance reform On Wall Street, Dem shake-up puts party at crossroads MORE (D-S.D.) said he thinks the rates for the top brackets will have to increase.

“I think so, but I’ll keep my powder dry. It’s between the president and Mr. Boehner,” he said. 

Johnson faces a tough race in 2014, likely against former Gov. Mike Rounds (R).

Sen. Mark BegichMark BegichSenate GOP deeply concerned over Trump effect Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (D), who is running for reelection in Alaska, another red state, agreed that a final deal to avoid the fiscal cliff will have to raise income tax rates on the nation’s wealthiest families. 

Republicans have taken a hard-line stance against raising income tax rates, arguing it would slow job creation. 

Democratic centrists who are not running in 2014 have also been careful to stay out of the public spotlight.

When asked about Boehner’s plan, retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) offered a terse “No comment.” 

Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterBernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate Senators roll out bipartisan gun proposal Congress should stop government hacking and protect the Fourth Amendment MORE (D), who narrowly won reelection last month, said he had not seen Boehner’s proposal and wanted to “take a peek” before discussing it. 

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillVA opposes bill aimed at helping vets in mustard gas experiments Blame game begins on Zika funding Overnight Tech: Obama heads back to Silicon Valley | FCC meeting preview | Yahoo bans terror content | Zuckerberg on sit-in live streams MORE (D-Mo.), one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the 2012 cycle, declined to render judgment on the president’s or Boehner’s position. 

“I’m being stubbornly vague because I want us to get a deal, and if you start drawing lines in the sand, it makes it that much harder to get a deal,” she said. 

But McCaskill, like her centrist colleagues, says Republicans must give ground on raising tax rates.

“I’m just glad we got two proposals,” she said. “Let’s just hope we can split the difference and they bend on rates. If they don’t bend on rates, we won’t get a deal, I don’t think.”