Democrats dig in on preserving Medicare, "fiscal cliff" talks stall
(CBS News) Optimism about averting the so-called fiscal cliff at year-end is fading on Capitol Hill, even after some Republicans moved to put higher tax revenue from the wealthy on the table for debate.
"They've talked some happy talk about doing revenues but we only have a couple of weeks to get something done so we have to get away from the happy talk and start talking about specific things," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday.
CBS News' Major Garrett reported that President Obama has no new direct talks scheduled with Congressional leaders this week, but will fly to suburban Philadelphia on Friday to push for an immediate vote to extend Bush-era tax cuts for middle income earners.
Republicans have called the visit meaningless electioneering.
"We already know the president is a very good campaigner," Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said, before adding, "We congratulate him on his re-election. What we don't know is whether he has the leadership qualities necessary to lead his party to a bipartisan agreement."
The Senate Republican leader went on to say that the Democrats' resistance to cutting funding to health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid is a significant impediment to cost-cutting.
"Every dollar that's ever been secured for anything is sacred," McConnell said of the Democrats' stance. "They'll defend it to the death, regardless of what it means for jobs or the economy," he added.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a top White House ally, argued against using the fiscal cliff talks to put pressure on lawmakers to scale back Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
"These are the people that have paid in over a lifetime into social security and Medicare and fully expect the protection," Durbin said.
Meanwhile, Republicans stand firm in their vow not to raise taxes on the wealthy unless big changes to entitlement programs -- which currently account for more than 60 percent of annual federal spending -- are put on the table.
White House spokesman Jay Carney avoided going into details of a possible compromise, but said, "The president is very committed to the proposition that we can deal with these challenges if we come together ... and adopt a balanced approach."
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