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Debt deal rankles liberals, Tea Partiers in the House

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Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, will have to get his caucus on board with the president's deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET

President Obama has landed a deal with Republicans to make sweeping cuts in government spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. The deal was brokered with literally hours to go before the U.S. exhausted its ability to borrow money, but its success in the House is still uncertain.

Progressive Democrats are irate that the bill makes sweeping cuts without any revenue increases, and Tea Party members could hold their ground against any deal that doesn't require stricter spending controls. Over the next few hours, party leaders will be convincing their most ideological members they should hold their noses and pass the bill.

House Democrats may be the hardest to convince the deal is worth supporting. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., head of the Congressional Black Caucus, lamented the plan would put Medicare "on the chopping block" and tweeted Monday morning, "This deal is a sugar-coated satan sandwich. If you lift the bun, you will not like what you see." He added, "This debt deal is antithetical to everything the great religions of the world teach, which is take care of the poor, aged, vulnerable."

On Sunday, as the parameters of the deal started to emerge, Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, released a statement in opposition to it, saying the deal "trades peoples' livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals."

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Even Democratic leaders in the House, who have been working with Mr. Obama to forge a deal that can pass Congress, gave a tepid response to the outcome.

"This is not a balanced approach," Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said on CBS' "The Early Show" on Monday. "Revenues need to be on the table, and we haven't done that."

In a statement Monday morning, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was mum on whether House Democrats would support the deal. "We all agree that our nation cannot default on our obligations and that we must honor our nation's commitments to our seniors, and our men and women in the military," she said. "I look forward to reviewing the legislation with my caucus to see what level of support we can provide."

The plan that finally emerged after weeks of contentious negotiations includes nearly $1 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, with a similar increase in the debt limit. It creates a special, bipartisan congressional committee of a dozen members to come up with recommendations for $1.5 trillion in further deficit reductions by Thanksgiving.

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If the committee fails to reach that target, or Congress doesn't pass those recommendations by the end of 2011, the debt limit could also be increased if Congress sends to the states a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, a key demand for many conservatives in the debt fight. If the amendment also fails, the deal calls for automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs totaling between $1.2 and $1.5 trillion, with an accompanying debt limit increase.

Liberal activists are warning that Congress can't expect that many Democrats to get behind a plan that in their eyes puts Medicare "on the chopping block," as Cleaver put it. As many as 87 House Democrats signed a letter from the progressive caucus earlier opposing any deal that cuts Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.

Their outrage over the current plan is shared by liberal pundits like New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who called the deal "an abject surrender on the part of the president."

Progressive economist Robert Reich lamented, "The radical right has now won a huge tactical and strategic victory... And the largest threat to our democracy is the emergence of a radical right capable of getting most of the ransom it demands.

While it's unclear how many liberals will get on board with the deal, it's also possible that a significant number of conservative Republicans could revolt.

As many as 22 House Republicans last week voted against a plan put forward by House Speaker John Boehner. While Democrats roundly rejected Boehner's bill as too extreme, those 22 House Republicans said it didn't go far enough.

After unveiling the deal Sunday night, Boehner and several of his Republican colleagues hailed the deal. "We fought, they caved," Boehner said.

Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Ill., told the speaker, "You scored an eagle on the 18th hole and won the U.S. Open."

The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page called the deal a "Tea Party triumph," but not all Tea Party members see it that way.

Conservative Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah told local station KSL TV on Sunday night that he's inclined to oppose the deal.

"Right now I'm a probable 'No.' I want a solution and not a deal," he said. "We've got to take care of the underlying challenge and not just come up with some cuts that might happen 10 years from now."

Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., said on MSNBC Monday morning that he's also going to vote against it. "I haven't heard anything over the last couple of weeks that I could support," he said.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, the leader of the House Tea Party Caucus and a presidential candidate, also released a statement saying the deal "spends too much and doesn't cut enough. This isn't the deal the American people 'preferred' either, Mr. President. Someone has to say no. I will."

The House conservatives have the support of such pundits as Erick Erickson of "Were I in Congress, I'd vote against it," he writes. "All that said, I think this is it, so we might as well get used to it. Just keep track of who on the right votes against it. They'll be the real heroes."

Update: Activist groups have sprung into action today, urging members of Congress to listen to their political base as they head into today's votes.

On the right, the influential group the Club for Growth is warning members of Congress that the vote on the debt deal will be included in the Club for Growth's 2011 Congressional Scorecard.

"The problems with this proposal are many, but fiscal conservatives should have obvious concerns for the lack of guaranteed future spending cuts, no requirement that a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution be sent to the states, a commission that could still recommend job-killing tax increases, and worse of all, two debt limit increases totaling over $2 trillion within only a matter of months," Andrew Roth, the group's vice president of government affairs, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the liberal site FireDogLake is asking supporters to call their members of Congress and urge them to "oppose the creation of a 'Super Congress' in the deficit bill."

Referring to the debt deal's proposed deficit reduction committee, FireDogLake says, "The 'Super Congress' is how Congress intends to insulate themselves from taking unpopular votes to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits -- by investing a small group of elites with extraordinary powers, and then tying their own hands from stopping them."

Other liberal groups are also getting involved. Justin Ruben, executive director of, said the group surveyed its 5 million members, "and the vast majority oppose the deal because it unfairly asks seniors and the middle class to bear the burden of the debt deal. Congress should do what it should have done long ago and what it has done dozens of times before - pass a clean debt ceiling bill."

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