With talks to avert a series of spending cuts and tax increases continuing between President Obama and congressional leaders, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Tuesday that no deal will be reached until Democrats step forward with specific proposals to cut federal spending.
“For all the president’s talk about the need for a balanced approach, the truth is he and his Democratic allies have simply refused to be pinned down on any spending cuts,” McConnell said.
As part of a deficit reduction proposal unveiled two weeks ago, Obama has called for trimming the debt by about $4 trillion over the next decade, in part through spending cuts already in force and savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also called for about $1.6 trillion in taxes and about $400 billion in savings from changes to federal health and entitlement programs.
McConnell said Obama “seems to think if all he talks about is taxes – and that’s all reporters write about – somehow the rest of us will magically forget that government spending is completely out of control and that he himself has been insisting on balance.”
Noting that federal spending and debt has ballooned to more than $3 trillion in the last decade, McConnell reached into a series of government reports often used by Republican to highlight examples of government largesse. The examples amount to pennies in federal spending and often yield out-sized attention.
McConnell rattled off a few examples: Ninety-four federal initiatives aimed at encouraging green building through 11 different federal agencies; 14 federal programs with the sole purpose of reducing diesel emissions; taxpayer funding for Moroccan pottery classes run by the U.S. Agency for International Development; money spent on promoting shampoo and other beauty products for cats and dogs; and that a $516,000 grant from the National Science Foundation was used to develop a video game allowing people “to relive prom night.”
“Get this,” McConnell added, “taxpayers also just spent $325,000 on a robotic squirrel, named Robo-Squirrel.”
In light of those spending decisions, McConnell raised the specter of cutting government spending in order to pay for $60 billion in supplemental federal aid requested last week by Obama to help rebuild communities in New York and New Jersey affected by Hurricane Sandy – a spending fight that the White House, congressional Democrats and some Republicans are hoping to avoid.
Before Congress approves Obama’s request, “Don’t you think he could put together a list of spending cuts that at least includes robo-squirrels?” McConnell asked.
In the past, Obama has expressed an abhorrence for the kinds of wasteful government spending programs highlighted Tuesday by McConnell. The administration has launched government-wide efforts to eliminate such waste, including a modest attempt to reorganize and eliminate some federal offices and programs -- including a revamp of the Commerce and Interior departments -- that have thus far yielded no considerable progress.
For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) provided no update on the ongoing talks Tuesday morning.
But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) responded to McConnell’s comments, noting that federal spending has ballooned since the balanced budgets of the 1990s primarily because of war costs and an aging population increasingly reliant on Medicare and Social Security.
Durbin reiterated Democratic support for raising tax rates on upper-income earners back to rates not seen since Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Durbin called the proposed $1.6 trillion in new taxes over the next decade “not an unreasonable amount.”
“It’s a tax rate, which frankly ruled in this country at a time when we had more jobs and businesses created than ever in recent history,” Durbin said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney pointed to the president's proposed spending cuts in his briefing Wednesday. "What we haven’t seen yet is any specificity at all from Republicans on revenue," he said.