A bloc of Senate Democrats could decide not to support a White House-brokered deal on tax cuts and unemployment benefits, thereby putting the plan in danger, according to the second-ranking Senate Democrat.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) suggested Monday evening that many caucus members could threaten to back away from the deal as leverage to ensure it gets what it wants from a potential compromise with Republicans.
"Well, there is, you know, there is a group that may walk. Let's say at some point you've gone too far," Durbin said during an interview on NPR. "If the Republicans overreach — if they start including some of their pet projects into this compromise when it comes to the tax code, you could find a walkout on the Democratic side. People saying, 'You've just pushed it too far.' "
Durbin's comments are one of the strongest signals from a congressional leader that Democrats could break with President Obama on the tax-cut deal, which it wants to see passed before the end of the year, when the Bush-era provisions expire.
Sensing it is in danger of losing support from a group of Democrats, the White House is sending Vice President Joe Biden — who served in the upper chamber for more than 35 years — to Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon help sell the deal to skeptical senators.
Obama announced the deal, which he called a "framework for a bipartisan agreement," late Monday evening. The crux of the accord contains a two-year extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts in exchange for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits.
Several Democratic members of the House and Senate have publicly expressed frustration that Obama agreed to temporarily extend the tax cuts for the highest income earners in an attempt to lift a Republican blockade on an extension of middle-class tax cuts.
Durbin echoed the concerns of a key group of Senate Democrats, saying the cuts for the wealthy could blow a hole in the already large federal budget deficit.
"I just left the deficit commission. We spent 10 months trying to figure out ways to reduce our spending by $400 billion a year to reach a reasonable goal in terms of deficit reduction and debt reduction," he said. "Now we're turning around just days later and voting in Congress to increase spending by giving tax cuts to the wealthiest people in America. It just does not compute.
"If we're serious about deficits, I would think we could draw the line and say those at the highest income categories ought to sacrifice something for America," he added.