McConnell countered by accusing Reid of “political gamesmanship” and announcing that he had telephoned Biden, opening up his own line of communication with the White House.
“I’m interested in a result here. And I’m willing to work with whomever can help,” McConnell said. “There is no single issue that remains an impossible sticking point. The sticking point appears to be a willingness, an interest, or courage to close the deal.”
Later, after consulting with fellow Republicans, McConnell agreed to take Social Security off the table.
The decision cheered Democrats. Obama had offered to include chained CPI in the big deficit-reduction package he had been negotiating with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this month. Obama endorsed the idea again Sunday, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” calling it a tough decision he was willing to make “in pursuit of strengthening Social Security for the long term.”
But many Democrats say they would go along with the idea only as part of a far-reaching deal that also included at least $1.2 trillion in new tax revenue over the next decade. The deal under discussion Sunday would raise far less than that, somewhere between $600 billion and $800 billion.
“Chained CPI should be part of the larger discussion about the future of Social Security,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), “not just a casual bargaining chip here at the last minute.”
Still, McConnell’s decision to drop the proposal served only to complicate the negotiations. By removing one of the few ideas on the table that would actually reduce spending, negotiators were left with a long list of new spending and only new taxes to cover the cost.
That infuriated many Republicans, who were already troubled by a deal that would require them to vote for a significant tax increase for the first time in more than 20 years. Republicans would be more open to the tax hike if it were used to reduce the federal budget deficit, but they remained resistant to raising taxes to expand government spending.
“You’re going to have to find some real spending cuts,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “You can’t just take this new tax revenue and say, ‘Well, we’ve got X number of dollars of new tax revenue, and that means we can spend that amount of money with no consequences.’ ”
In addition to delaying the sequester for two years — at a cost of roughly $200 billion — Democrats are seeking to protect doctors from a 27 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements set to hit in January, extend emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed for another year and approve a one-year extension of federal farm subsidies.