After budget battle Act 1, will Obama, Reid, Boehner have an Act 2?
Looming debt-ceiling talks may be a bigger hurdle for the three negotiators than the hard-fought deal on the 2011 budget. As for a deficit-cutting plan? Obama and Boehner are starting far apart.
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Democrats see the debt crisis as stemming from Bush-era tax policy that they say shields corporations and billionaires while demanding sacrifices from the poorest and most vulnerable. They call for a "balanced approach" to deficit reduction that includes overhauling the tax code to raise more tax revenue and robust oversight to protect consumers and the environment and to prevent Wall Street from engaging in practices such as those that triggered the Great Recession.
"The debate ahead of us is about more than spending levels; it is about the role of government itself," says Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York. "It will be one of the seminal debates in the first quarter of this new century, and it will determine what America is like."
How the public perceives the merits of each side is likely to influence what eventually emerges from Round 2. According to a Gallup snapshot at the onset, 61 percent of Americans say the government should make only minor changes in Medicare or not try to control costs, while 13 percent favor an overhaul. They are split on whether the FY 2012 budget should include major new cuts in domestic spending. On higher taxes for households with annual incomes of $250,000 or more, 59 percent say yea and 37 percent (including 60 percent of Republicans) say nay.
A bigger roster
Moving ahead, the players are likely to expand beyond Boehner, Obama, and Reid.
With the House budget plan for fiscal 2012 wrapped up, the Democratic-led Senate is scrambling to answer it. Reid is pushing the so-called Gang of Six to finish a bipartisan proposal that includes defense cuts and tax hikes. The six senators, mainly veterans of Obama's bipartisan deficit commission, have been meeting since December.
Obama has also asked congressional leaders to assemble a team of 16 for bipartisan, bicameral talks to devise a framework for "comprehensive deficit reduction" before July. That would require Reid to engage Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who largely stayed out of the FY 2011 budget talks, on the FY 2012 budget and the debt ceiling vote. Senator McConnell says Republicans will hold out for "something significant" on the national debt, before voting to raise the debt ceiling.
In the House, Boehner aims to keep pressing for spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and no new taxes. But he must also negotiate differences with his party's conservatives. Fifty-nine House Republicans didn't like the deal he reached with Obama and Reid on the 2011 budget and, on April 14, voted against it.