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Administration's Cliff Offer Presents a Challenge for Centrist Democrats

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Begich, a Democratic senator from Alaska, said he could consider changes to the debt ceiling voting procedure, but is uneasy about ceding all power to the executive.

“I can’t imagine they would vote for what the Treasury secretary showed the speaker and myself today — I can’t imagine it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt when asked about moderate Senate Democrats up for re-election.

He pointed to specific revenue provisions offered by the White House as part of its $1.6 trillion request, including setting the estate tax at 45 percent and raising top rates on capital gains and dividends.

“There’s hardly anything they miss — it’s a massive, whopping punch right in the nose to the American economy,” McConnell said of the tax increases. “I can’t imagine the Democrats would support it. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, is certainly not going to support the estate tax proposal; Mary Landrieu — the Democrat from Louisiana — is not going to support the gas tax, neither is Mark Begich of Alaska. It’s completely unserious.”

It is no coincidence that all three members McConnell mentioned by name are up for re-election in 2014 in states that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won handily.

Baucus, of Montana, and Landrieu told reporters last week they want to see the estate tax maintained at its current rate. And Begich and Landrieu, both from oil-rich states, have historically broken with their party on oil tax breaks, voting against a Democratic bill as recently as March.

Roll Call currently rates the 2014 races in Alaska, Lousiana and North Carolina as Tossups, while Montana is rated Leans Democratic.

Reid, for his part, spent much of this Congress successfully protecting his in-cycle senators and, by extension, his majority. Though Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents held 23 of 2012’s in-cycle seats, they were able to not just maintain but expand their majority. That effort was assisted in Washington by a carefully crafted floor strategy, which gave some senators bragging rights at home while shielding them from potentially toxic measures.

Top Democratic aides acknowledge that accommodating members key to maintaining their majority is part of their overall responsibility as talks continue. But they caution that it will be difficult to find an agreement that will be acceptable to all of their members, moderate or liberal, in-cycle or out, and said that no matter whether you’re Democrat or Republican, the vote on a deficit reduction agreement will be a tough one.

“There’s significant consideration to how our entire caucus views a potential agreement,” said one Senate Democratic aide, who noted that Reid has a “full and fair” seat at the negotiating table, even if Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner have bigger roles to play. “The truth is, no matter what the final agreement looks like, this will be a very difficult vote for the vast majority of lawmakers.”

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