For Dems, some good news and some potentially bad news.
In an interview with me just now, Dem Rep. James Clyburn — one of the Dems at the table in the Biden-led deficit negotiations — flatly ruled out the possibility that Congressional Dems would support any deal that cuts Medicare benefits, labeling such a move a “non-starter.”
But he repeatedly declined to say whether the White House views the talks in the same terms, and demurred when asked if he thought the White House would draw a firm line against Medicare benefits cuts in the end.
“Democrats will not support cuts in benefits — that’s a non-starter,” Clyburn told me, referring to House Dems. “Medicare is a safety net that seniors have earned. These people did not cause the situation that we’re in. For us to be talking about continuing tax cuts for the rich and taking benefits away from senior citizens — that is just unbecoming of a civilized society.”
Many liberals are hoping that the White House is signaling an equally firm stance in the deficit talks. Clyburn indicated that in their private meeting last week with the president, House Dems demanded he lay down a similarly hard line.
“Everybody made it very clear that this is a social contract we made with our seniors,” Clyburn said. “That’s what Medicare is.”
But Clyburn said that he did not know from the talks whether the White House was willing to hold to that position. This is potentially significant, because it could mean that the White House is not prepared to indicate a united front with Dems on benefits cuts.
“I don’t know what the White House position is,” he said. “I know where Democrats are. Hopefully the White House will be in agreement.”
“Everything is on the table,” Clyburn said at another point, in characterizing the potential outcome of the talks.
This latest comes as some Democrats are going public with their insistence that the White House make their opposition to significant Medicare cuts clear — beyond what Obama has said, which is that he oppposes the fundamental changes to Medicare that Republicans want. Five Democratic Senators today called on the White House to take anything resembling the Ryan plan “off the table” in the negotiations. And a prominent Dem pollster told me last week that Dems agree to Medicare benefits cuts at their peril — it risks squandering the advantage Dems have regained on the issue since 2010 and on the broader question of which party is the real defender of the middle class.
Clyburn agrees. We still don’t quite know how the White House sees it.