WASHINGTON - Republicans' newfound willingness to consider tax increases to avert the "fiscal cliff" comes with a significant caveat: larger cuts than Democrats seem willing to consider to benefit programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the president's health care overhaul.
The disconnect on benefit programs, coupled with an impasse between Republicans and the White House over raising tax rates on upper-bracket earners, paints a bleak picture as the clock ticks toward a year-end fiscal debacle of automatic spending increases and harsh cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs.
Democrats emboldened by the election are moving in the opposite direction from the GOP on curbing spending, refusing to look at cuts that were on the bargaining table just last year. Those include any changes to Social Security, even though President Barack Obama was willing back then to consider cuts in future benefits through lower cost-of-living increases. Obama also considered raising the eligibility age for Medicare, an idea that most Democrats oppose.
In this Nov. 21, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks about the Thanksgiving holiday in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. The White House said Tuesday, that the president plans to make a public case this week for his strategy for dealing with the looming fiscal cliff, traveling to the Philadelphia suburbs Friday as he pressures Republicans to allow tax increases on the wealthy while extending tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or less.
"I haven't seen any suggestions on what they're going to do on spending," a frustrated Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Tuesday. "There's a certain cockiness that I've seen that is really astounding to me since we're basically in the same position we were before."
Well, says Obama's most powerful ally on Capitol Hill, the Democrats are willing to tackle spending on entitlement programs if Republicans agree to raise income tax rates on the wealthiest Americans - a nonstarter with Republicans still in control of the House.