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March 17, 2013

Mixed Messages on Potential US Budget Pact

by Michael Bowman

Republican lawmakers are sending mixed messages about their willingness to compromise with President Barack Obama on the components of a deal to reduce America’s long-term federal deficit.  Efforts to forge a so-called “grand bargain” that would improve the nation’s fiscal outlook have been stymied by hardened partisanship in the politically-divided Congress.
 
For years, Republicans have steadfastly opposed tax hikes in the quest for deficit reduction.  Republicans were unable to prevent taxes from going up automatically on top earners at the beginning of the year.  But since then, Republican lawmakers have dismissed President Obama’s calls for a mix of spending cuts and additional tax revenues to shrink the deficit.
 
House Speaker John Boehner repeated his no-tax stance on ABC’s "This Week" television program Sunday.
 
“The president got his tax hikes on January 1.  The talk about raising revenue is over.  It is time to deal with the spending problem," he said. 
 
But another Republican lawmaker said his party might be willing to consider some form of enhanced federal revenues if Democrats agreed to cost-saving reforms to programs that provide income and health care to retirees.  
 
Senator Bob Corker, who spoke on "Fox News Sunday," said“I think Republicans, if they saw true entitlement reform, would be glad to look at tax reform that generates additional revenues.  And that does not mean increasing rates.  That means closing loopholes.  It also means arranging our tax system so we have economic growth."
 
Corker is only one Republican, but his statement was welcomed by Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, who also appeared on "Fox News Sunday."
 
“I think Bob [Corker] just gave an honest and constructive answer.  And I want to thank Bob for saying that.  I think what Bob Corker just said from his side is a basic set of principles that both sides can rally around," he said. 
 
In three trips to Capitol Hill last week, President Obama urged Republican lawmakers to end their opposition to new tax revenue, while also telling Democrats that entitlement reform is unavoidable.  
 
Senator Durbin agrees, saying  “In 10-12 years, Medicare goes broke.  That is unacceptable.  We want to make sure that Medicare is there for generations to come.  And that means making some reforms and some constructive changes.”
 
This week, Congress will work on funding the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year.  Talks on a long-term budget pact will likely continue for months to come.
 
This year’s budget deficit is projected at $900 billion.  America’s national debt exceeds $16 trillion.