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Democrats take a harder line on going off the 'fiscal cliff'

Congress is working to prevent a series of automatic budget cuts that would otherwise kick in at the beginning of the new year, but some Democrats are taking a

Congress is working to prevent a series of automatic budget cuts that would otherwise kick in at the beginning of the new year, but some Democrats are taking a harder line: They say that unless the deal benefits middle class families, or they'll allow the country to go over the so-called "fiscal cliff."

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said this week that the cuts, which would amount to about $560 billion in taxes and spending cuts, need to be balanced. "Millions of jobs could be lost through the automatic cuts, programs families depend on would be slashed irresponsibly across the board, and middle-class tax cuts would expire," she said. "And once again, if Republicans won’t work with us on a balanced approach, we are not going to get a deal."

She went on, saying, "if we can’t get a good deal—a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share—then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013, rather than lock in a long-term deal this year that throws middle-class families under the bus."

Jared Bernstein, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said on Thursday's The Last Word that "the fact is that nobody, Patty Murray included, wants to go over this cliff as the first best option."

But, as a CBPP study showed, the notion of it being a "cliff" at all is flawed. Allowing the automatic cuts to go into effect will not trigger an immediate recession. According to the report: "If current law initially takes effect — causing various income and payroll tax cuts to expire on January 1, emergency unemployment insurance (UI) to expire while joblessness remains very high, and across-the-board spending cuts to kick in on top of the discretionary cuts that the 2011 Budget Control Act caps mandate — the economy will indeed start down a slope that could ultimately lead to a recession in 2013.  But that's a far cry from the economy falling off a cliff and plunging immediately into recession."

Bernstein told Last Word host Lawrence O'Donnell that Murray and a few others recognize "that we can't achieve a sustainable budget path without new revenues. Grover Norquist has very successfully blocked that blatant reality for a very long time. And if he can be broken on this, and it takes going over the cliff, or, as we think of it, starting down a slope that we can reverse and come back up quickly, that would be a quite positive things for the economy and for fiscal policy."

msnbc contributor Ezra Klein, who also appeared on the program, pointed out that the hard-line tactics are not just about this particular deal. "One thing Democrats are thinking about here isn't just this fiscal cliff and this tax deal, it's that they need to break the Republicans' brinkmanship altogether."

"Democrats believe at this point they need to show the Republicans that they cant keep threatening to drive the country off of of these vairous kinds of cliffs," Klein said. 

Help The Last Word's design campaign buttons for its "Off The Cliff" campaign, to show Republicans that the Democrats are serious about breaking the pattern of brinkmanship.