CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
March 2, 2012 – 8:42 p.m.
Deficit Reduction Talks Live On
By Frances Symes, CQ Staff
Two bipartisan groups of lawmakers are working behind the scenes to revive momentum for comprehensive legislation to address the government’s fiscal woes and in particular to chart a course for long-term deficit reduction.
After the mostly abortive budget debates of the past year, which concluded with the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction not reaching agreement, the subject moved to the background. But interest is again picking up.
Republicans fiercely criticized the president’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal, released Feb. 13, for doing little to contain the rising federal debt. And Democrats continue to object that Republicans are too eager to reduce spending and too unwilling to raise taxes on the wealthy.
Yet, despite all the politicking, in recent weeks lawmakers in both chambers have been working to put bipartisan, comprehensive deficit reduction plans into legislative form — a process that did not really happen last year.
Senate Majority Leader
Simpson conceded that making proposals as specific as possible is a necessary step in selling an idea. “When you go talk to somebody about it, you continue to hear, ‘Well, let me see what I’m looking at; what are you talking about?’ ” he said.
House Group Pushing Ahead
Those two lawmakers are now leading a working group of six to 10 House members that is drafting deficit reduction legislation. Specifics about their plan have not been released, but it is expected to follow the contours of previous efforts by calling for a combination of mandatory and discretionary spending cuts, coupled with a revenue-raising overhaul of the tax code.
Although the leaders of the effort in the House are regarded as moderates, the larger coalition of lawmakers who backed the “go big” approach came from across the political spectrum, including those who would not usually count themselves as fiscal conservatives.
The real question, said
Meanwhile, the Senate’s Gang of Six has quietly resumed meeting over the past few months after its deficit reduction recommendations did not catch fire over the past year. The gang had proposed a $3.7 trillion plan that relied on a combination of spending cuts, a tax overhaul and changes in entitlement programs to cut the deficit.
Deficit Reduction Talks Live On
One member of the gang, Democratic Whip
‘Critical Decision’ to be Made
The House group is in contact with the Senate gang. And, although the two groups decided they could not logistically meet as one, they are sharing ideas. The unique characteristics of the two chambers might lead to differences in the legislation. But those involved say they share the same framework and goals for cutting the deficit.
The timing of when the legislation might be introduced is also uncertain. The House is expected to consider a budget resolution by April, but it is unlikely to contain a broad deficit reduction plan that can gain support from both parties. And the Senate Budget Committee might mark up a budget resolution spelling out a plan for deficit reduction, but leaders have said it will not be considered on the floor.
The most likely scenario is that a debate over the deficit will occur in a post-election, lame-duck session as lawmakers wrestle with several complicated fiscal issues. “Before the end of the year there are going to be some critical decisions made about the future of the Bush tax cuts, the future of sequestration, and whether or not we are going to find a different way to approach deficit reduction,” Durbin said.
Backers of the continuing efforts say one goal is to prepare their colleagues early for the difficult decisions ahead, in hope that the next big fight will yield a resolution.
“First of all, it’s an education process to members of what the seriousness of the problem is,” said Simpson, who serves on the Appropriations and Budget panels. “There are still members that think you can just address the whole thing by taking care of entitlements and there are some people who think you can just do it by taxing the rich. The reality is that when you sit down and look at the numbers and what the consequences would be if you don’t put everything on the table, you’ve got to put everything on the table.”