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Quiet Discontent Among Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats were eerily subdued Monday as details of an emerging deal leaked from White House and Republican officials, but the quiet masked the disgruntlement, not just from liberals but also more moderate members up for re-election in 2014.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. who in the years closing hours left much of the negotiating to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. waited almost the entire day before calling members together to review the details of their proposal. And when he did, he invited Biden to sell it to his restless membership. Reid also has not indicated whether he could support the plan, which began to take shape early in the morning.

Given that Democrats were widely considered to have been in the position of leverage, several members and aides privately grumbled that the White House had ceded too much ground in not sticking to its promises to allow taxes to rise on those making more than $250,000. Adding to the displeasure was the presidents failure to secure perhaps the biggest chit Democrats wanted: a way forward on the debt ceiling.

As I see this thing developing quite frankly, as Ive said before no deal is better than a bad deal, and this looks like a very bad deal, the way this is shaking up, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said on the floor Monday. If youre making more than $250,000, youre not middle class. Youre the top 2 percent of income earners in America.

This is one point in time where decisions that are made on this so-called deal, decisions that are made could lock in for the next 10 years what kind of a country were going to be, what kind of a society were going to be, Harkin continued. So we better be darned careful.

In July, all but two members who caucus with Senate Democrats voted for a symbolic measure that would let expire tax breaks for those with incomes more than $250,000. The two members who opposed it are both retiring. Yet White House officials seemed to indicate Monday that Senate Democrats had weakened their hand in the tax debate.

Regardless, any deal struck if any is struck at all will likely set up a series of difficult votes for members who face re-election in 2014. Throughout the 112th Congress, Reid tried to shield his in-cycle members from tough votes. With so much still up in the air from an extension of the debt limit to how to deal with the sequester to entitlement cuts and tax code reform senators will likely be asked to repeatedly vote on tricky budget issues in 2013.

Its disappointing we couldnt get it all now, but as the president said today, were going to have to do it in phases, said Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., who is up for re-election in 2014.

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