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Will Senate Democrats Rally Beyond the CR?

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Indeed, moderates have warned they want much larger cuts in the future to contain the deficit, and Democrats are divided over how to address entitlement spending and Social Security in particular.

And while the Obama administration has urged a quick and clean passage of a debt limit increase, it’s doubtful Reid could find the 51 votes that he would need without a bipartisan agreement to cut the deficit.

Already, several Senate Democrats, including Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.), have warned they will not support a large debt limit increase unless it is accompanied by a plan to contain the debt in the long term.

Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the many Democrats up in 2012, may have been the most blunt last week that the $38 billion in spending cuts won’t be nearly enough to get his vote.

“I strongly believe we must adopt a long-term, responsible and realistic fiscal plan that reflects our values and defines priorities, or I will vote against raising the debt ceiling,” the West Virginia lawmaker said. He also warned that he does not support President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise taxes as part of the solution.

“Before we ask middle-class families, or any American, for more of their hard-earned money, we need to first show them that their government can spend their money wisely,” he said. “We haven’t done that yet.”

Reid, however, also has to appeal to the liberal wing of his party. Of note, he nominated Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) to a bipartisan negotiating group on deficit reduction proposed by the president last week.

The Baucus pick isn’t a huge surprise — his panel has jurisdiction over entitlement spending and would have to move any package — but he has been frosty to the idea of the deep entitlement cuts envisioned by the president’s fiscal commission. Baucus served on the president’s deficit commission last year and vigorously opposed the proposal put forward by the chairmen to save $4 trillion over the coming decade.

Baucus this week suggested instead attaching some kind of deficit caps to a debt limit increase — an idea that also found its way into Obama’s deficit speech Wednesday. But Obama’s proposal would force tax increases as well as spending cuts.

Republican proposals focus exclusively on spending.

They intend to force Democrats into politically tough votes on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution as well as spending caps, including a proposal by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that would slash spending by $7 trillion over the next decade — more even than the House Republican budget.

Reid’s biggest challenge, if he chooses to accept it, could be to bring a fiscal 2012 budget to the floor. He declined to do so last year in what has become an endlessly repeated GOP talking point, but a budget resolution would pose special challenges because there are no limits on amendments and most can pass with a simple majority. For Reid, who has a slim majority and a passel of nervous Democrats staring at re-election next year, fighting off GOP amendments won’t be easy, and many Republicans doubt he will bring up a budget for that very reason.

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