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Senate Dems insist they'll protect Medicare in debt talks

Al Franken
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., center, accompanied by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., left, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 6, 2011. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Amid reportsthat the White House is ready to accept cuts to Medicare in its debt reduction negotiations with Republicans, Senate Democrats today reiterated their pledge to protect the government health care program.

"Social Security and Medicare are great American success stories," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a press conference, "and we are committed to keeping them for the future."

President Obama yesterday imploredboth Democrats and Republicans to leave their "comfort zones" to achieve "real compromise" on the budget, adding, "I'm ready to do that. I believe there are enough people in each party that are willing to do that." He has invited Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting Thursday to work through the "real differences" that he says remain to get a deal done to raise the debt ceiling.

But in their press conference today, Senate Democrats blasted Republicans for seeking spending cuts without agreeing to revenue increases, particularly tax increases on the wealthy.

"We've seen people on the other side of the aisle who have walked away from the table to protect millionaires and billionaires," Stabenow said.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said the top 1 percent of wage earners account for 24 percent of all income in America and asked, "Where are the jobs from the Bush tax cuts?"

The Democrats acknowledged that some spending cuts were necessary, but also emphasized the need to end "tax loopholes for people with yachts and subsidies for oil companies."

In a Republican press conference today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he's "open" to closing tax loopholes as part of the deal, as long as it doesn't involve "cherry-picking" in certain industries.

"What I think we all agree to, is that tax reform needs to occur again," McConnell said. "It is, however, a big complicated subject and it has unintended consequences... When you target particular industries, you get fewer jobs. And our biggest problem right now is the job problem."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the U.S. has "had a luxury tax on yachts before. It was in 1990. The Congress decided to tax luxuries including yachts. What was the effect of it? It about put the American boating industry out of business."

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