WASHINGTON (AP) — The No. 3 Democrat in the House said Tuesday he believes Congress and the White House can find a consensus on tackling the nation’s growing indebtedness as long as “a lot of compassion” is brought to the table.

But Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina told MSNBC that government safety-net programs like Medicare and Medicaid must not “be shredded.”

Clyburn is the highest-ranking African-American in Congress. Progress can be achieved in deficit negotiations, he said, “if sacrifices are, in fact, shared.” Clyburn also said he thinks Democrats are willing to give some on entitlement program changes so long as Republicans show a willingness to work on closing loopholes in the tax code that benefit the wealthy.

“We have got to come to grips with spending as well as revenue,” he said.

Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said “I do not want there to be a Medicare-only solution.”

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The Massachusetts Democrat, also interviewed on MSNBC, said he believes that at a time of U.S. struggles with its national debt and burgeoning debates about cuts to social and other programs, “I think the time has come to re-examine NATO” and the financial contributions that Washington makes to it.

Frank said the alliance was established under President Harry S. Truman in the late 1940s at a time when Europe needed help and the United States had the power to stand up to Russia’s Josef Stalin. He said the rationale for heavy American involvement with NATO isn’t the same as when the organization was founded.

“NATO has become an excuse for other countries to get America to do things,” he said. Frank criticized U.S. expenditures on a missile defense system based in Poland, saying that “we don’t need to protect France against Belarus.”

“I think we should make it clear that NATO is a shell of what it used to be and we shouldn’t pretend that NATIO is an entity that is going to help us,” he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.