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
  • George Harrison memorial tree killed by beetles

     A tree planted in Los Angeles to honor former Beatle George Harrison has been killed — by beetles.

    July 23, 2014

  • ‘X-Men’ VR experience coming to Comic-Con

    Comic-Con attendees will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to enter the mind of Professor X.
    20th Century Fox has created an “X-Men”-themed virtual reality stunt especially for the pop-culture convention, which kicks off Thursday in San Diego. The interactive digital experience utilizes the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, which is not yet available to consumers, to simulate the fictional Cerebro technology used to track down mutants by the character portrayed by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the “X-Men” films.

    July 23, 2014

  • Centenarian Weather W_time2.jpg At 101, weather observer gets a place in the sun

    It takes only a couple of minutes, twice a day, but 101-year-old Richard Hendrickson is fiercely proud that he has done the same thing for his country and community nearly every day since Herbert Hoover was in the White House in 1930.
    The retired chicken and dairy farmer, whose home sits in the heart of the ritzy Hamptons, has been recording daily readings of temperature and precipitation on eastern Long Island longer than any volunteer observer in the history of the National Weather Service.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 22, 2014

  • U.S. outlines case against Russia on downed plane

    Video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site. Imagery showing the firing. Calls claiming credit for the strike. Recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.

    July 21, 2014

  • James Garner Obit.jpg 'Maverick' star James Garner, 86, dies in California

     Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western "Maverick" led to a stellar career in TV and films such as "The Rockford Files" and his Oscar-nominated "Murphy's Romance," has died, police said. He was 86.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Given life term, drug offender hopes for clemency

    From the very start, Scott Walker refused to believe he would die in prison.
    Arrested and jailed at 25, then sent to prison more than two years later, Walker couldn’t imagine spending his life behind bars for dealing drugs. He told himself this wasn’t the end, that someday he’d be released. But the years passed, his appeals failed and nothing changed.

    July 20, 2014

  • Teen’s death puts focus on caffeine powder dangers

    A few weeks before their prom king’s death, students at an Ohio high school had attended an assembly on narcotics that warned about the dangers of heroin and prescription painkillers.
    But it was one of the world’s most widely accepted drugs that killed Logan Stiner — a powdered form of caffeine so potent that as little as a single teaspoon can be fatal.

    July 20, 2014

  • Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site

    International monitors moved gingerly Saturday through fields reeking of the decomposing corpses that fell from a Malaysian airliner shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, trying to secure the sprawling site in hopes that a credible investigation can be conducted.
    But before inspectors ever reach the scene, doubts arose about whether evidence was being compromised.

    July 20, 2014

  • Without radar, missile may not have identified jet

    If Ukrainian rebels shot down the Malaysian jetliner, killing 298 people, it may have been because they didn’t have the right systems in place to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft, experts said Saturday.
    American officials said Friday that they believe the Boeing 777 was brought down by an SA-11 missile fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

    July 20, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads