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Democrats Retreat to Beef Up Agenda

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Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Senate Democrats will work on their agenda during this week’s retreat.

Moderate lawmakers, meanwhile, plan to push their colleagues hard during the retreat to get behind serious deficit reduction.

“If you’re going to vote on the debt ceiling ... you better have a plan in place to get your fiscal house in order,” Sen. Joe Manchin said at a bipartisan press conference Tuesday backing new authority for the president to get up-or-down votes on packages of spending cuts.

The West Virginia Democrat said he’s looking forward to talking to his colleagues at the summit about what he’s hearing back in his state — with fiscal responsibility at the top.

Sen. Mark Pryor said he expects the retreat will be a chance for Democrats to hash out a way forward on the deficit.

The Arkansas Democrat is one of a sizable bipartisan group interested in pushing something akin to last year’s presidential deficit commission, which would cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the coming decade and trim Social Security, Medicare, tax breaks and a host of other programs.

“It’s going to be very hard; it’s not a pleasant subject,” he said. But “the debt commission gave us a very good blueprint to follow.”

Pryor, like Manchin, also pointed to the coming debt limit increase as a focus point for getting a deal and said he hopes Democratic leaders and the White House ultimately get behind a plan.

“It’s a time for presidential leadership,” he said.

But liberals are pushing back, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leading the charge against cutting Social Security, a sentiment shared by Reid.

Sanders has argued that Social Security can pay current benefits until 2037 and hasn’t contributed a dime to the deficit, and he said he wants items such as an increase in the retirement age off the table.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has opposed Social Security cuts, said the retreat will help separate “the wheat from the chaff” on the various proposals for dealing with the deficit.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) are leading the negotiations on a bipartisan deal with Senate Republicans to bring the fiscal commission recommendations to the Senate floor.

“We’re going to have a long discussion about that,” Landrieu said, adding that the retreat will give Democrats a rare chance to have some extended time together, instead of the fleeting conversations they tend to have in the Capitol.

Sen. Mark Udall said he hopes to discuss energy, immigration and the deficit, adding that those three issues are closely tied to job creation and will be critical for Democrats.

“We are going to talk substantive policy concerns, and of course, we’ll talk about our caucus, discuss how we can effectively work together — that wouldn’t surprise anybody,” the Colorado Democrat said, adding they will also discuss how to best communicate their message to the public.

But it won’t all be serious.

“We’ll have a little fun, we’ll be off site, people will be able to let their hair down. That’s always a good thing to do,” Udall said.

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