- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has long abandoned hopes of including any tax increases in ongoing debt-ceiling negotiations, but that didn’t stop labor unions and left-leaning groups from calling for a final plan that raises taxes on the wealthy and doesn’t cut any entitlement programs.

As the Republican-led House prepared Thursday to vote on a plan backed by Speaker John A. Boehner but firmly opposed by President Obama and a majority of the Senate, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Government Employees, MoveOn.org and Rebuild the Dream rallied outside.

They raged against Mr. Boehner’s plan, which they fear could lead to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security cuts. After allowing an initial raise in the debt ceiling, the proposal requires a joint committee to find $1.8 billion in cuts before a second increase takes place.

A competing plan proposed by Mr. Reid cuts spending mainly through troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, but leaves entitlement programs alone.

“Save Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, don’t default, and send Wall Street the bill for the nation’s deficit,” Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, told attendees, who peppered the rally with occasional cries of “tax the rich.”

One man, dressed in hospital scrubs, held a sign reading “War is making the economy sick.”

While participating members of Congress joined in the pleas to shield entitlement programs from cuts, they didn’t have much to say about tax increases — a component neither deficit-cutting plan includes. The president and Mr. Reid loosened their initial attachment to revenue increases in the face of sharp GOP resistance, although Mr. Obama reiterated his support in a nationwide address early this week.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, wouldn’t say for certain whether she would vote for Mr. Reid’s plan if it passed the Senate and made it to the House floor, but applauded it for staying away from the major entitlement programs.

“Hands off our Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, that’s what his plan does,” she told The Washington Times. “I see that as a victory.”

Likewise, Rep. John Garamendi, California Democrat, was coy about whether he would support the Reid plan, which may be voted on by the Senate before the end of the weekend. Expressing disappointment that neither plan includes tax increases, he said the question of whether the Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire at the end of 2012 would also factor into his decision.

“I also want to see where President Obama is on the expiration of the tax cuts,” Mr. Garamendi said. “Is he really going to stand firm this time? Last time, he didn’t.”

Mr. Garamendi also suggested that if Congress is unable to reach agreement by the Aug. 2 deadline, Mr. Obama could single-handedly raise the debt ceiling by issuing an executive order under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, third-ranking House Democrat, is leading a group of lawmakers asking Mr. Obama to make the constitutionally questionable move.

“There is a penultimate, fail-safe solution,” Mr. Garamendi said. “I understand why [the president] doesn’t want to use it, but it’s there.”

Given the uncertainty of whether the Reid plan will ever make it to the House floor, it wasn’t surprising that House members focused on the Boehner plan. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, told rally attendees that Republicans want to “slide and glide and take no responsibility.”

“They want to ensure there is a balanced-budget amendment so they can pay for their goodies and leave you along the highway of devastation,” she said.