Washington (CNN) - Even before the debt talks got underway at the White House Thursday, liberal House Democrats drew a line in the sand, saying there was no way they could support a deal that includes cuts to entitlement programs. They planned to send President Obama a letter telling him to take entitlements off the table in the talks.
"At a time when each millionaire is getting $138,700 dollar tax break a year from the government, there is no reason our seniors and the neediest amongst us need to struggle to pay their hospital bills," said Congressional Progressive Caucus Vice Chair Judy Chu, D-California. "The debt must be addressed, but it should be done in a way that is fair to all. We should not balance the back of this budget on our nation's seniors."
The caucus blamed Republicans for using the debt talks as a way to make cuts to entitlement programs.
"Republicans have used this opportunity in a very cynical and political way, to not just talk about deficit reduction or not just talk about debt ceiling, but to really go after programs that they have historically, historically opposed," said co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona. "And we feel that it is important for us to put up our defense for those programs that the American people have historically, historically depended on and supported."
Members of the caucus told reporters they are willing to discuss entitlement reforms, such as raising the payroll tax cap, but are unwilling to support a deal if it restructures Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid through cuts to benefits.
"We're not trying to be the skunk at the garden party in these negotiations," said Grijalva. "We just feel that a perspective, and a very wide perspective of this country, has not been part of the dialogue, and has not been part of the discussions and the deals that are being talked about."
Grijalva warned of the political consequences to both parties if such program cuts were made.
"If a deal involves the cuts to Medicare, Social Security, a dismantling of Medicaid, that the consequences, all negative, would befall both parties," he said. "This isn't something that the American people are going to take very lightly."