Congress opens first budget debate in four years
Congress this week takes up the parties' sharply different views on taxes and spending. Just laying down political markers on next year's budget could help advance a 'grand bargain' on deficits and entitlements, some say.
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Republicans, led by Ryan, are expected to lay into the Democratic budget, which will aim only to bring the nation’s debt down to a stable percentage of GDP (gross domestic product) over time and will likely include tax hikes. Republicans see this approach – new taxes without reforming the nation's entitlement programs – as an abrogation of duty in the face of the mounting costs of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare and a record $16 trillion in government debt.Skip to next paragraph
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Few in Washington envision any achievable compromise between Ryan’s 10-year path to a balanced budget and Senator Murray’s likely vision of a budget that never hits balance. That takes the much-ballyhooed option of “regular order,” or meshing the two budget resolutions into a single set of instructions for appropriators in both parties, largely off the table, in this instance.
But that doesn’t mean that laying down political markers in the budget process won’t be important to making headway on a fiscal grand bargain behind the scenes.
Obama will meet with Republican conferences on both sides of Capitol Hill this week – his first visit with either since 2010. That comes on the heels of Obama's recent efforts to reach out to the GOP, including phone calls and dinner at a posh Washington hotel with Republican senators. The president even lunched with Ryan, his former campaign antagonist, and Representative Van Hollen on Thursday.
Both Ryan and senior White House officials in recent weeks have met with corporate executives from the Fix the Debt campaign, an organization dedicated to a sweeping financial pact and led by the co-chairs of Obama’s debt and deficit commission, former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson and President Clinton's former chief of staff Erskine Bowles.
The question to be answered in all of these meetings is clear: How can Washington break the logjam that has prevented it from enacting sweeping fiscal reform?
“What we want to do,” says Van Hollen, “is make sure the conversation starts early so there’s time to actually get a resolution.”
Starting the conversation early is to make sure Obama and Congress don’t find themselves locked in a game of high-stakes budget chicken when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling in July or August.
In 2011, that harrowing experience crushed the stock market and consumer confidence and cast a pall over congressional-executive relations for the remainder of Obama’s first term. Congress shows more than a few signs of wanting to head off that possibility again.
“The long-term budgetary problems we discussed last night have defied bipartisan solutions for far too long,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina in a statement, after dinner with the president last week. “I'm ready to try to solve the serious, long-term budget problems our country faces and can accept failure as an outcome. But I cannot accept not trying.”