WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Democrats are deeply divided over whether cuts to popular benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid should be part of a plan to address the nation’s financial problems, raising a big obstacle to an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff, even if Republicans agree to raise taxes.

Much of the focus during budget negotiations has centered on Republicans in Congress agreeing to higher taxes, though not by raising tax rates. President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that any plan to reduce government borrowing must balance spending cuts with tax increases on the wealthy

But even if GOP lawmakers agree to raise taxes, there is no guarantee Democrats can come up with enough votes in the Senate to cut benefit programs _ as Republicans are demanding.

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