WASHINGTON — It is crucial to follow this year's White House-Congress budget agreement with one next year that will make significant inroads in the budget deficit, says Rep. Leon Panetta (D) of California, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Otherwise, he says, the US may not be able to face up to the deficit until forced to by an economic crisis. ``You have to take a bold approach'' if major progress is to occur, Representative Panetta says. During a Monitor breakfast meeting he told reporters that to make progress in reducing the deficit, three elements must be considered: tax increases, entitlement trims, and discretionary-spending cuts.
``Putting taxes on the table is the key that makes it possible to deal with other tough issues,'' he says. It is an indirect warning to the White House that Congress will not substantially cut spending unless the President reverses course next year and permits consideration of higher taxes, which he ruled out this year.
At the same time Panetta says that the Democratic-controlled Congress must be willing to consider trims in entitlement programs. These are government programs for citizens which fit into specific categories such as social security and medicare for the elderly, for example.
Entitlement programs make up 44 percent of the federal budget, Panetta says, and they are ``the big problem here. ... If you're not willing to deal with entitlements, you're not going to get the [deficit] numbers down.''