'Top Line' -- Rank-and-File Dems Strike Out on Own on Budget Cuts

ABC News' Rick Klein reports: A group of rank-and-file Democrats is leading an effort to put forward $70 billion on proposed budget cuts -- a move that gives voice to frustration with their party's leadership over a lack of concrete action toward trimming the deficit.

On ABC/Washington Post’s “Top Line” today, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said he and his colleagues are acting on their own because neither Republican nor Democratic leaders are moving to identify budget cuts “in a constructive way.”

“It's awfully easy to say what the American people want to hear right now, which is that we need to get out fiscal house in order,” Himes told us. “Nobody disputes that. We've got way too much debt, our entitlement programs are in a scary situation.

“What's hard is what you say next. How do you do that? What specifically are you willing to bring to the table? And this process doesn't happen -- and it's going to be a process of many years -- it doesn't happen unless people come to the table. Democrats come to the table with some spending cuts; there are no sacred cows. So four of us said, here's $70 billion in cuts over 10 years to start this discussion. Agree or disagree, but come to the table with specifics.”

Asked if he’s frustrated by the budget-cutting pace set by his own party’s leaders, Himes said:

“Well not as frustrated as I am that I'm not invited to the Clinton wedding, but nonetheless frustrated. Look, that's the whole point of the effort we've made here. Neither sets of leaders, the Democrat nor the Republican leaders, have come to the table in a constructive way. You know, we're getting into a political season right now…. The time is now for us to demonstrate and in particular to our creditors that we've got the political will to make some tough decisions, to have a conversation about how we discuss our fiscal problems.”

Himes said he’s not concerned with squaring his vote for the massive stimulus bill last year with his focus now on cutting the budget:

“I voted for the stimulus, and I will defend that vote 'til the day that I die. When we voted on the stimulus, we were losing 700,000 jobs every single month. GDP was contracting at rates between 5 and 6 percent. Every economist from the left to the right that came to the Congress said do a big stimulus. By the way, the consensus right now on the part of most economists is that the stimulus was too small. But we're in a different world now, GDP is growing, unemployment is shrinking -- not nearly as fast as we want unemployment to shrink -- but we're in a different world.

“So as classic economics, as opposed to baloney politics would have you do, when you're careening on the edge of a depression, yes, you stimulate. When you're recovering, you start to pull back, and that's what we're saying: It's time to start to pull back, carefully. We don't want to double-dip here, but it is time to start indicating that we can take the steps to get our fiscal house in order.”

Himes said he’s not certain yet how the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year should be handled by Congress.

“Right now, I do believe that the tax cuts on households making under $250,000 -- which by the way in my district is, it's an affluent district, that's a fair number of people -- those I believe should be extended,” he said.

“Now, for households making more than $250,000, I think we should have a discussion there that centers around the issue of businesses. An awful lot of sole proprietors are paying taxes on an individual basis that make more than $250,000, but they're not paying themselves that money, right, they are going to reinvest some of that money into small businesses. I don't know the answer yet on household incomes in excess of $250,000, I think that's a conversation we have to have with a particular focus on small businesses. But I am certain that on households making less than $250,000, now is absolutely not the time to raise their taxes.”

Watch the full interview with Rep. Jim Himes HERE .

For our “Post Politics” segment, we chatted with Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post about the large number of female candidates running for governor and Senate, plus yesterday’s vote on Afghanistan funding, where more than 100 House Democrats voted to cut off funding for a war being led by a president of their own party.

Watch the portion of the program with Karen Tumulty HERE .

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