Congressional negotiators from both parties are set to sit down Thursday afternoon for their latest meeting on deficit reduction with Vice President Biden. The huddle, which begins at 1 p.m. at the Capitol, marks the group’s fifth meeting. On the agenda: the budget process, discretionary spending and the contentious issue of revenue. Here are some things to keep an eye on as the talks convene.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who along with Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is one of two Senate Democrats tapped to attend the talks, will likely make the case for new revenue. Then the focus is likely to turn to discretionary spending, spending caps and other enforcement mechanisms.
Republicans are seeking something along the lines of the CAP Act, a proposal by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that eventually caps all government spending – including defense and entitlements – at 20.6 percent of gross domestic product. (The current federal spending level is at more than 24 percent of GDP.)
Democrats, including the White House, are looking for a cap on the size of the federal deficit, rather than a cap on spending. Republicans oppose this idea, arguing that it would allow room for revenue increases.
The participants in Thursday’s meeting – who include Biden, Inouye, Baucus, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) – will continue down the list of potential items involved in deficit reduction. The negotiators have yet to focus extensively on Medicare, one of the most contentious issues in the debate.
But the group plans to pick up the pace next week, with three meetings scheduled, in the hope of bringing this phase of the talks to a conclusion before the month is out.
It would then fall to President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to decide whether they want a $1 trillion deal (with a nine-month debt limit increase), a $2 trillion deal (to get through the 2012 election) or an even bigger grand compromise that could hit the $4 trillion target set by House Republicans and Obama’s fiscal commission.
Earlier this week, Kyl told reporters that Republicans are seeking at least $2.5 trillion in budget savings in exchange for extending the debt ceiling through the end of next year. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a member of the “Gang of Six,” a bipartisan group of senators also trying to negotiate a compromise,said Wednesday that the bipartisan group of senators is working on a plan that would include $4.7 trillion in spending reductions.