"I think people realize we're trying to save it. It doesn't take very long to run through the numbers for people. Their jaws kind of drop," the Wisconsin Republican said. "An awful lot of people are pretty discouraged with [the Democrats]. ... They're pretty disappointed that other side isn't stepping up to plate and offering solutions."
Casey, in a telephone interview from the Keystone State, said his opposition to overhauling Medicare has been well received in Pennsylvania and said the GOP's charges have not gained traction. The Senator, who is up for re-election in 2012, described a meeting with Medicare recipients at a downtown Philadelphia senior center at which attendees thanked him for opposing a Medicare overhaul.
"We have had a lot of reaction now in our state ... a lot of reaction, obviously, against the proposal the Republicans made," Casey said. "I think that debate and the vote that was cast broke through. I think people really paid attention."
Republicans, arguing that long-term spending cannot be addressed absent entitlement reform and recognizing a leverage point within the debt ceiling negotiations, are demanding that a deal include the Medicare overhaul component.
But Democrats, opposed to that Medicare plan, have called on the Republicans to drop this demand, suggesting they are prepared to accept deep spending cuts requested by the GOP in exchange for removing the entitlement program from the debt ceiling discussions. In a conference call on Friday, Harkin and Reed told reporters Democrats are ready to deal, while asserting that the Republicans' position on Medicare vis-à-vis the debt ceiling hike is unreasonable.
"I think the risk of not raising the debt ceiling is so significant that we should be focused on that," Reed said.
Added Harkin: "Do I believe that Medicare should be off the table? You bet I do, because it has nothing to do with the default crisis right now."
Staff Writer Jessica Brady contributed to this report.