President Obama’s plan to cut the deficit by some $3 trillion faces robust competition in a Congress already awash in competing principles and plans to get America back to a sustainable path.
Congress’s new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka super committee, has until Thanksgiving to produce a plan to cut deficits over the next 10 years by at least $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion.
As mandated by law, the White House and standing congressional committees have until Oct. 14 to make recommendations to that panel. The president’s announcement, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday, is the first bid in that process, but by no means the last.
The partisan lines on dealing with debt and deficits have been clear since Republicans took back the House this year. For Republicans, especially those with strong tea party backing, the mantra is: no tax hikes, period.
Democrats have countered with calls for shared sacrifice, especially more taxes levied on the wealthiest Americans and fewer tax breaks for oil companies, and no hits on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Commenting in advance of the president’s announcement, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi praised the president’s expected call for higher taxes on the rich, but she reaffirmed opposition to entitlement cuts.
“In particular, I am very encouraged by the president’s focus on the need for tax reform that calls on all Americans to contribute their fair share,” she said in a statement. “And while we await the specific details of the president’s full proposal, we remain committed to strengthening Medicare and Medicaid.”
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The fight this summer to raise the national debt limit – and the threat of default if that effort failed – produced independent and bipartisan efforts at odds with the prevailing gridlock. One of the most notable efforts came from the Senate’s so-called Gang of Six.
Most of the six are veterans of the president’s 2010 deficit commission. The three Democrats and three Republicans continued meeting into the spring and summer of this year to work out a compromise to implement that commission’s $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph incorrectly described how many members of the Gang of Six were on the 2010 deficit commission.]
Last week, 36 senators – more than a third of the Senate – endorsed principles of that bipartisan effort. Those principles include:
• Setting deficit reduction target of at least $4 trillion, instead of the $1.2 trillion mandated by law, to “send the right message to the financial markets.”
• Using “established, bipartisan debt and deficit reduction frameworks,” a.k.a. Simpson-Bowles and the Gang of Six, as a starting point for discussions.
• Focusing on the major parts of the budget and including long-term entitlement reforms and pro-growth tax reform.
• Structuring the plan to grow the economy in the short, medium, and long term.
It’s a formula that is, for now, opposed by leadership in both parties. Democrats are wary of entitlement reforms and Republicans are wary of calls for tax reform that doesn’t include a ban on tax hikes.
The bipartisan group includes 18 Republicans, 17 Democrats, and one Independent who caucuses with Democrats – none of whom were tapped by party leaders to serve on the super committee.
As firefights continue at the leadership level, these senators expect that the hundreds of hours many of them have put into work toward a bipartisan agreement will help shape the outcome.
“Debt is choking this country, and we feel that it’s time to check our political hats at the door and step up and do what is the right thing for the American people,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia, at a briefing announcing the agreement on principles on Sept. 15.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Ind.) of Connecticut compared the moment to the Arab Spring – a reference to the disconnect with leadership. "If 36 of us in the Senate, across party lines, stick together, the leadership has to react," he said at the briefing. "Maybe we'll look back and say that today was the beginning of the 'Washington Spring,' as opposed to the other springs that are occurring."
Meanwhile, the 12-member supercommittee will hold a hearing on “Revenue Options and Reforming the Tax Code” on Sept. 22. The hearing will be open to the public.