Today’s Courier Herald Column:
After over a year of effort, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss and Virginia Senator Mark Warner announced that their bi-partisan “Gang of 6” had reach a consensus on a deficit reduction plan. Agreement on a budget plan with significant deficit reduction has become key in both the House and Senate as a condition to raising the nation’s debt ceiling, set to be reached by August 2nd. The “gang” was joined by Conservative Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who had earlier left the group, signaling that Senate Conservatives were also likely to support the effort.
The plan is a mix of spending cuts, elimination of some tax breaks, and some tax cuts. The Alternative Minimum Tax would be eliminated, but $1 Trillion in new revenues would be increased over the ten year period. Chambliss points out that on a net basis, the plan will still be scored by the Congressional Budget Office as a tax cut.
The plan broadly outlines savings from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and will most likely bring means testing – the idea that wealthier recipients pay more or receive less – to the seniors’ programs.
The plan received broad bi-partisan support in the Senate, where a gang of 60 is required for any bill to become law. President Obama also signaled support for the plan, signifying likely support from the Democratically controlled Senate as a whole.
The Republican controlled House, however, spent Monday passing their Cut, Cap, and Balance plan, which would cut over $100M from spending in next year’s budget, cap federal spending at 18% of GDP, and mandate a balanced budget in the future. The passage sets the stage for active negotiations with the Senate, though many House Republican scoff at the notion of a compromise that will include any revenue increases.
Attitudes and opinions on how to proceed run the gambit among conservatives attempting to navigate a political arena balancing the mandate from the 2010 election to reduce taxes and spending, but also meet the fiscal needs of the country forced by the debt ceiling limit being achieved before a budget they have already passed being appropriated. Some, like Georgia’s Paul Broun, have used the opportunity for personal grandstanding, refusing to vote for Cut, Cap, and Balance because the plan does not “pay down the debt immediately.” Broun’s continued demagoguery on the issue obfuscates the point that to pay down debt immediately, taxes would have to be raised, or the entire U.S. discretionary budget would have to be eliminated. Entitlements and interest on the debt currently account for all US tax revenues collected.
Others, such as freshman Rob Woodall, make the case for a more pragmatic approach. Interviewed on radio show host Martha Zoller’s program, Woodall emphasized that while Republicans control the House, Democrats control the Senate and Executive Branch. He also noted that if fiscal conservatives refuse to yield on any issues, “Liberals” only need to pick off less than 20 Republicans to pass whatever they want. The key, he urged, is to quickly determine the most conservative plan that can pass both houses, and then move forward with plans for items that continue to address the nation’s fiscal issues, such as comprehensive tax reform. Woodall has been able to schedule hearings on the FairTax, of which he is a sponsor.
Woodall’s approach is similar to that of Ronald Reagan, who not only did not fear compromise, but encouraged it. Compromise need not be giving up ideals for the sake of a deal, but getting as much of what you want as you can rather than getting nothing. House Republicans have made their stand with Cut, Cap, and Balance. They now need to fully engage the Senate in honest negotiation, and see how much can be integrated into the developing framework for this week’s grand compromise.