* Democrats indicate they're open to 'means-testing'
* Republicans seek distance from "no new taxes" pledge
* Both parties making an effort to show willingness to
By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 U.S. lawmakers have made
little progress in the past 10 days toward a compromise to avoid
the harsh tax increases and government spending cuts scheduled
for Jan. 1, a senior Democratic senator said on Sunday.
The United States is on course to slash its budget deficit
nearly in half next year. Closing the gap that quickly, which in
Washington is referred to as going over a "fiscal cliff," could
easily trigger a recession.
"Unfortunately, for the last 10 days, with the House and
Congress gone for the Thanksgiving recess ... much progress
hasn't been made," Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told
ABC's "This Week" program.
Still, lawmakers in both the Democratic and Republican
parties have been trying to convince the public - and financial
markets - that they are willing to compromise and can reach a
deal before the end of the year.
Durbin indicated Democrats might accept a reform of the
government's Medicare health insurance program for the elderly
that would make higher-income seniors pay more for their care.
Democrats traditionally oppose limiting Medicare benefits
according to income, a practice known as "means testing." Durbin
said Medicaid, a public health insurance program for the poor,
also could be overhauled.
"We can make meaningful reforms in Medicare and Medicaid
without compromising the integrity of the program, making sure
that the beneficiaries are not paying the price for it, except
perhaps the high-income beneficiaries," Durbin said.
A deadline looms over the talks. Without action by lawmakers
and President Barack Obama, roughly $600 billion in tax
increases and spending cuts will start to hit households and
companies in early January.
Republicans and Obama's Democrats are at an impasse over the
president's wish to raise income tax rates on the wealthiest
Americans, which Republicans say would hurt job creation.
Republicans also want to cut spending on social programs
more than Democrats say they will accept.
Still, a growing group of Republican lawmakers are loosening
their ties to Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist famous for
getting elected officials to sign a pledge that they will vote
against any tax increases.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Republicans will
allow tax revenues to rise as long as social spending programs
are reformed. "I will violate the pledge - long story short -
for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do
entitlement reform," he told "This Week."
Graham said he supported boosting revenues by closing tax
loopholes rather than by raising tax rates.
Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said last week he "cared
more about the country" than a 20-year-old pledge, and on Sunday
Republican Representative Peter King, chairman of the House
Homeland Security Committee, told NBC's "Meet the Press" he
agreed with Chambliss.
Durbin said the Democrats' will for substantial entitlement
reform did not extend to Social Security, the federal government
pension program, which he said only needs small tweaks to ensure
"Bring entitlement reform into the conversation. Social
Security, set (it) aside," Durbin said.