Bipartisan agreement on balancing budget may be harder than thought
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 9:58 PM
Forget about convincing Congress. The leaders of the president's fiscal commission came under fire from the panel's own members Tuesday as they struggled to forge a bipartisan consensus on an ambitious plan to balance the federal budget.
In separate appearances, two lawmakers who sit on the 18-member panel rejected major elements of the budget-cutting proposal announced by commission co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan K. Simpson - offering a glimpse of how difficult it would be to win broad political support for a serious assault on rising national debt.
At a Capitol Hill news conference, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) presented her own cost-cutting proposal, rejecting Social Security reductions in favor of deeper cuts at the Pentagon and higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Meanwhile, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who is in line to chair the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said in a speech at the nonprofit Tax Council that he would oppose any increase in the overall level of federal taxation without further spending cuts.
The push to deal with the nation's budget problems could be further complicated Wednesday when another commission member - Clinton administration budget director Alice Rivlin - is due to present a different strategy that includes ideas that are likely to be even less palatable politically, such as a big new jolt of economic stimulus and a new national sales tax.
"I don't think we know how this is going to play out," Rivlin said of the proliferation of ideas. "But I think a consensus is building that debt is a huge problem and that we've got to take major action."
Lawmakers, however, are struggling to agree on much of anything in the wake of political upheaval in the midterm elections. Democrats made no progress Tuesday in deciding the fate of an array of tax cuts that are set to expire Dec. 31. A proposed meeting at the White House for leaders of both parties to discuss a potential compromise was postponed until Nov. 30.
The White House said the meeting was delayed at the request of House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "due to scheduling conflicts in organizing their caucuses."
"The meeting will happen," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said. "Nobody pulled out."
In the House and the Senate, lawmakers have spent the past two days electing party leaders and debating organizational changes, leaving little time to focus on policy. Senate Republicans did approve a resolution banning the use of earmarks Tuesday, but the measure is not binding and some GOP senators suggested they may not play along.
On tax cuts, aides say a clear legislative path is unlikely to emerge until after the Thanksgiving break.
"It's clear that a vast majority of my caucus believes that we should protect the middle class," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). But he declined to endorse the idea of temporarily extending all the tax cuts - including provisions that benefit taxpayers who earn more than $250,000 a year - as McConnell and other senior Republicans have demanded.
"We must recognize the impact of our deficit," Reid said. "Remember, some of the people pushing the hardest for extending the tax cuts to billionaires are the same people who are are complaining about the deficit."