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Democrats Balk at Non-Defense Spending Cuts, Float Alternative Proposal to Super Committee

FILE: In this Oct. 25, 2011, photo, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, right, says the so-called Super Committee which he co-chairs still has plenty of time to find a solution to the nation's debt crisis. That time is now ticking down to little more than a week.AP

Democrats suggested Wednesday that too much has already been cut from non-defense spending to come up with $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years, as sources offered a few details about a Democratic proposal to collect $1.3 trillion via tax hikes, stimulus spending and benefits cuts. 

As a joint hearing concluded of the Super Committee tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in savings by Thanksgiving or facing automatic cuts on domestic spending and defense, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a member of the 12-person deficit-cutting panel, was vague about whether a Democratic offer had been proposed.

Offering conflicting responses, sources told Fox News that the Senate Finance Committee chairman had thrown out a few numbers that roughly correspond to a reported $1.3 trillion proposal.  

Another source told Fox News that the figure had been "batted around" but wouldn't really describe it as a full-blown proposal. Still, another source said it indeed was a formal proposal by Baucus and others.

According to two congressional sources, the Democratic proposal would get to $1.3 trillion in federal budget savings by hiking revenues to raise half of the money. The plan would cut about $400 billion from Medicare -- half through benefits cuts and half through provider savings --  and proposes raising another $300 billion through stimulus spending. 

Reuters reported that while the proposal was a Democratic plan, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a member of the Super Committee, balked at the Medicare cuts.

Asked about the details of the plan, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., another member of the panel, responded, "We'll know about that later."

Two congressional officials who spoke to Fox News said despite the descriptions of the proposal as the new plan, it is neither the first plan put forward nor the only plan on the table. 

"The only thing new here is the leak," said one source.

A Democratic source told Fox News that any "purported offer was not reflective of any one member but of Democrats reaching out to Republicans," adding that it is "safe to, at a minimum, characterize it as from a majority of Democrats on the committee." 

The source added that any framework, and specifically cuts in purported offer are similar to or based upon "where (President) Obama was in the grand bargain discussions.”

At the rare hearing convened by the panel to discuss options publicly, Democrats said Congress keeps returning to the same pool of options to find additional cuts. 

"Congress has gone to this relatively small pot with cuts and sending caps again and again, while leaving many other pieces of the budget essentially untouched," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., co-chair of the panel. 

Republicans, however, say they -- and many defense analysts -- worry about any further cuts to defense. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, the other co-chair of the group, said government spending has bubbled over in the last two years even as the recession drags on. 

"The (Environmental Protection Agency) has grown 130.8 percent, the Energy Department has grown 178.7 percent with the stimulus. Education has grown at 180.6 percent at a time when the economy has actually seen negative economic growth and family paychecks have shrunk," he said.

Testifying at the hearing, Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf  said whatever the committee decides, spending on entitlements like Medicare is unsustainable. 

"Entitlement programs, mandatory spending is a growing share of federal outlays, in some cases. Growing rather rapidly and without addressing that path of spending, it would be extremely difficult to put the budget on a sustainable path," he said. 

Elmendorf has warned the committee that he needs its recommendations much sooner than that in order to officially score the savings. Like the beginning of November-- which is next week.

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