CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Sept. 6, 2011 – 10:35 p.m.
Deficit Panel May Draw On Biden Group Ideas
By Joseph J. Schatz and Paul M. Krawzak, CQ Staff
The 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction are hardly starting from scratch as they begin to find at least $1.2 trillion in budgetary savings.
The panel’s way was paved earlier this year by a bipartisan group of negotiators, led by Vice President
Even if the committee does battle over ideological friction points from taxes to entitlement programs, the Biden group’s work is likely to provide a starting point of sorts. The panel also may draw on the work of the Senate’s so-called Gang of Six, whose long-term budget-cutting proposals never gained traction in the summer showdown over raising the debt limit, and on the recommendations from late 2010 made by President Obama’s fiscal commission.
Some of the proposals identified in the earlier talks already have bipartisan support and may provide the committee an easy way to start its work.
The size and scope of the savings accepted by the Biden group remain in dispute — Democrats have confirmed only a few elements of those proposals that had bipartisan agreement — but the total clearly amounted to several hundred billion dollars over a decade.
One discussion of the group’s work, outlined in a presentation by Majority Leader
Cantor, who was a member of the Biden group, was also involved in White House-led debt limit negotiations during the summer.
He told House Republicans that Obama presented a package of savings proposals based on the Biden group deliberations during the debt limit talks. These included cutting more than $300 billion from federal health care spending, trimming almost $50 billion from civilian defense retirement costs, reducing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac spending by $30 billion and saving billions of dollars more from other programs, according to Cantor’s presentation.
Obama’s proposal included billions of dollars in cuts from Medicaid, nutrition assistance and aid to rural hospitals, Cantor told the GOP conference.
Cantor included the specifics in a slide show he presented to the conference, but administration officials and lawmakers generally have refused to share or confirm much of what was discussed during the White House meetings.
Following Cantor’s presentation, Obama did indicate that he was willing to consider means-testing Medicare benefits through higher premiums or co-payments for high-income individuals. But Obama declined to say whether he would support a higher retirement age for entitlement programs.
Deficit Panel May Draw On Biden Group Ideas
The Biden group, which included four lawmakers who serve on the joint deficit reduction committee — Sen.
That dispute was central to the Biden group’s discussions. It is evident that the group debated a series of changes to Medicare and Medicaid that might win White House backing. But Democrats refused to agree to those cuts unless Republicans accepted revenue increases. In the group’s final meltdown, Republicans said Democrats were insisting that higher taxes be paired with even less-controversial spending cuts.
That tax dispute has not been resolved, and divisions persist over many other budget proposals.
Still, there is evidence that some of the Biden group’s efforts had bipartisan support — perhaps at least as much as $200 billion in savings, and more when the savings from reduced interest payments on the federal debt are included.
Some of those proposals were included in a bill to raise the debt limit (
Reid’s bill also would have reduced agricultural subsidies by $11 billion, suggesting that the joint committee is likely to look closely at farm payments. The bill would have found an additional $18 billion in education policy changes and raised $15 billion through the sale of federally owned wireless spectrum.
Senate Republicans blocked action on Reid’s bill in late July, however, and none of the savings from mandatory programs was included in the measure increasing the debt limit that became law in August (PL 112-25).
Down to Business
The joint committee, which meets for the first time Thursday, is very different than the ad hoc Biden group. Created by the debt limit law, the panel is tasked with producing legislation — if it can reach an agreement — that will receive expedited votes in the House and Senate by Dec. 23.
If the committee cannot agree, or if the committee’s work is not enacted into law, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts would take effect in January 2013, giving both parties incentive to strike a deal.
Even if the joint committee cannot find the minimum $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction required, every dollar in savings it finds will reduce the amount of the automatic cuts. That arrangement is expected to put a premium on the committee looking for common ground wherever it can.