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Democrats See Opportunity on Spending Cuts

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“We are willing to work with Republicans on identifying wasteful programs, but we will go to the mat on defending the programs that will help us turn the corner on the economy,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said. “Let’s have a debate about the particular programs, not about the top-line number.”

That puts Democrats on sounder footing in the polls, which show the public wants to cut the deficit but generally opposes almost every specific measure that would do so.

Some Senate Democrats will be proposing cuts of their own, the Senate leadership aide said, to provide a contrast.

Republicans “would like to portray the debate as they are the ones that are interested in cutting spending and we are not,” the aide said. “That will not be the case. The debate is not going to be about whether to cut, it is going to be about whether to cut responsibly.”

House Republicans, meanwhile, are accusing Democrats of standing with special interest lobbyists rather than seriously addressing the $1.5 trillion deficit.

“Senate Democrats are poised to follow the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mantra that the Administration has adopted when it comes to getting spending under control,” said Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “They continue to say they want to see us get our fiscal house in order and reduce the massive $14 trillion debt, but when the rubber meets the road they abandon any sense of fiscal responsibility and instead voice support for more of the same failed stimulus-style spending.”

Republicans also point to the split within the Democratic Party over whether to seek a bipartisan budget-cutting deal.

“They’re facing an internal struggle on the topic that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon,” a Senate GOP leadership aide said. “And the first cracks began to show last week when Democrat leaders tried to focus their message on government shutdowns and couldn’t answer the question — what are you gonna do about the huge deficits and debt?”

The GOP trained fire last week on Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) for meeting with hundreds of lobbyists and advocates concerned about potential cuts as evidence that Democrats weren’t serious about fiscal discipline. The meeting was first reported by ABC News.

A Harkin aide fired back, however.

“There’s a lot of concern about irresponsible rhetoric against government efforts to serve people, and it’s ironic that so much noise is coming from those who want to create more massive deficits and debt through tax breaks to the most affluent in this country and repealing the health care law on behalf of insurance companies,” a spokeswoman for Harkin said.

The spokeswoman said the meeting was with Republicans, independents and Democrats and included advocates for child care, medical research and prenatal care for the poor.

Other Democrats have been pushing hard for steep spending cuts.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) recently signed on to a proposed spending cap that would slash trillions in spending over the coming decade, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that her own party is in “denial” over how big the problem is.

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