The Times West Virginian

Headline News

March 24, 2013

Budget balance is in eye of the beholder

WASHINGTON — When it comes to budgets, balance is in the eye of the congressional beholder.

To House Republicans, it means a balanced budget in a decade, achieved by $4.6 trillion in spending cuts and without any tax increases.

To Senate Democrats, it means a balanced plan, about $975 billion in higher taxes and a spending reduction of about $875 billion, not counting cancellation of $1.2 trillion in existing across-the-board-cuts.

That makes the two plans polar opposites as President Barack Obama and the two political parties begin maneuvering toward yet another round of deficit-reduction negotiations.

“Ultimately the key to this lock is in their (Republican) hands and they’ve got to decide if they want to turn it, and that means taking a balanced approach,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who is his party’s chief budget strategist in the House.

Across the Capitol, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky offered a rebuttal.

He said that under the plan Democrats favor, “We won’t get more jobs or a better economy or sensible reforms to prevent Medicare or Social Security from going bankrupt. And we certainly won’t get a balanced budget.”

Even with the deep differences between the two parties, there’s plenty of time before the next make-or-break moment in divided-government’s pursuit of lower deficits.

That won’t come until late July, when Obama probably will be forced to ask Congress for an increase in borrowing authority so the Treasury can finance the nation’s $16 trillion national debt. Republicans have said they will use the request as leverage to gain concessions on spending cuts in Medicare and other benefit programs.

“Going back to the 1950s, debt ceiling requests of presidents have been used to bring about major changes, Gramm-Rudman, the Congressional Review Act, the 1997 Clinton-Republican Congress deficit reduction package, the Budget Control Act,” McConnell said, summoning the ghosts of budget compromises past.

“All of those came in the context of the budget — of the request of the president to raise the debt ceiling,” he said.

Well before then, on April 8 in fact, Obama will present a budget of his own. It is long overdue, to the disappointment of Republicans who had hoped to make it an object of ridicule in the just-completed budget debates in the House and Senate.

It gives Obama the chance to align himself entirely with his Democratic allies, or possibly to edge away when it comes to government benefit programs that have largely escaped cuts in earlier compromises.

Republicans will watch to see what steps, if any, the White House is willing to recommend to slow the growth of Medicare or perhaps Social Security.

Given Obama’s recent series of meetings with Republicans, some GOP lawmakers say privately it would be a positive sign for him to include a proposal curtailing the rise in cost of living increases in benefit programs.

It’s a change he has supported since his aborted deficit-reduction negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, nearly two years ago. But many Democrats in Congress oppose it and the administration has never included it in its budget.

Republicans also are hoping Obama will back steps to slow the long-term growth in Medicare, even if they phase in gradually and produce relatively little deficit savings in the next decade.

The president’s 2013 budget called for $305 billion in Medicare savings, but only a fraction of that would come directly from patients or seem likely to change the demand for care.

In his State of the Union address in February, the president said he would change “the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital — they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.”

Considerably more sensitive is a suggested increase in the age of eligibility for Medicare.

During the recent round of meetings, Republicans asked Obama if he would support it, and he sidestepped, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing private conversations.

It’s another idea that the president supported once before, when he was negotiating with Boehner, and one that many congressional Democrats oppose strenuously.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who says she is “agnostic” on a change in the cost of living formula, recently wrote that an increase in the Medicare eligibility age above 65 is “a reflection of the broader Republican plan: an assault on the middle class, seniors and our future.”

On the other side of the divide, Obama and Democrats want Republicans to agree to higher taxes as part of any deal that wrings savings from Medicare. That was a tough sell before Jan. 1, the date Congress raised rates on upper-income taxpayers with votes of some Republicans and the acquiescence of others.

It will be an even tougher one now.

“Taking more money from hard-working families to fuel more spending in Washington is not going to solve our budget crisis,” Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan told the House recently as he advocated for the Republican budget that he wrote.

This time, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina provided the Democratic rebuttal.

“There are many words that can be used to describe the Ryan budget,” he told the House. “But the one word that cannot be used is ‘balanced.”’

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Labor Department cuts levels of allowable coal dust

    The Obama administration said Wednesday it is cutting the amount of coal dust allowed in coal mines in an effort to help reduce black lung disease.
    “Today we advance a very basic principle: you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your life for your livelihood,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said.

    April 24, 2014

  • Obama offers Japan security, economic assurances

    Facing fresh questions about his commitment to Asia, President Barack Obama will seek to convince Japan’s leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges, even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere.

    April 24, 2014

  • Supreme Court: Michigan affirmative action ban OK

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • Court critical of law punishing campaign lies

    The Supreme Court appears to be highly skeptical of laws that try to police false statements during political campaigns, raising doubts about the viability of such laws in more than 15 states.

    April 23, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia has ‘days, not weeks’ to follow by an international accord for Ukraine

    Russia has “days, not weeks” to abide by an international accord aimed at stemming the crisis in Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat in Kiev warned Monday as Vice President Joe Biden launched a high-profile show of support for the pro-Western Ukrainian government. Russia in turn accused authorities in Kiev of flagrantly violating the pact and declared their actions would not stand.

    April 22, 2014

  • U.S. weighing military exercises

    The United States is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, a Western official said Saturday. The exercises would follow Russia’s buildup of forces near its border with Ukraine and its annexation last month of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

    April 21, 2014

  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • Governor: Closing Boston amid bomber hunt ‘tough’

    Several days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Gov. Deval Patrick received a call in the pre-dawn hours from a top aide telling him that police officers outside the city had just engaged in a ferocious gun battle with the two men suspected of setting the bombs and that one was dead and the other had fled.

    April 20, 2014

  • Everest avalanche reminder of risks Sherpas face

    The rescuers moved quickly, just minutes after the first block of ice tore loose from Mount Everest and started an avalanche that roared down the mountain, ripping through teams of guides hauling gear.
    But they couldn’t get there quickly enough.

    April 20, 2014

  • Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 19, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads