* Republicans seek distance from “no new taxes” pledge
* Both parties making an effort to show will to compromise
By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers have made little progress in the last 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.
However, lawmakers in both the Democratic and Republican parties have been working hard to convince the public - and financial markets - that they are willing to compromise and can reach a deal before the end of the year.
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.
A deadline is looming. Absent 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 lobbyist 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.”
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 “completely” with Chambliss.
Durbin said Democrats are willing to allow small changes to parts of the country’s entitlement programs, including public health insurance programs for the elderly and poor, but the Social Security government pension program should not be on the table.
“Bring entitlement reform into the conversation. Social Security, set (it) aside,” Durbin said.
Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, said the ability to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” depended on the Republicans.
“The key here is whether or not the Republicans will move away from the ideologically rigid position, which has been the Grover Norquist pledge, which most of them signed,” he said on “Meet the Press.”