WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Tuesday warned he won't accept a deal to avert the fiscal cliff that does not also raise the debt ceiling, calling such a notion "foolish."
"I agree with the president," Reid told reporters. "It has to be a packaged deal."
If it is not raised by Congress before the end of the year, the nation's debt limit will need to be raised by February, setting up another round of divisive spending and tax fights and siphoning even more political capital away from President Barack Obama and Democrats eager to turn to immigration reform.
Meanwhile, Reid said he would entertain proposals to reform Medicare and Medicaid, which Republicans have been keen to pursue.
"There are things personally that I think we can do with entitlements," Reid said.
But Democrats have said they don't want to include Social Security, which could prove a sticking point.
"I think all of the entitlements need to be discussed, because all, in one way or another, are on an unsustainable path," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. He added, "There is no better time to fix that problem than right now."
To hash out those disagreements and others, McConnell said, Obama needs to "turn off the campaign" — a reference to Obama's plan to hit the road to promote raising taxes on the top 2% of taxpayers.
"We need to sit down and work this matter out," McConnell said.
But House Republicans also plan to take their case to the American people.
And, at this stage in the fiscal cliff negotiations, there's little need for a second in-person meeting among congressional leaders and the president until staff-level discussions have progressed further.
"There's not enough substance at this point to merit the principals meeting," a Democratic Senate leadership aide said in an interview Monday. But, the aide added, such a meeting next week is likely, because "it's hard to imagine two weeks going by without some kind of a meeting."