News / USA

Budget Battle Engulfs Washington

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, center, talks with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., left, and the committee's ranking Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, center, talks with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., left, and the committee's ranking Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011.
Michael Bowman

While some U.S. legislators seek to slash this year's federal spending amid a $1.6 trillion deficit, a fierce battle over future expenditures has only just begun. That battle has yet to address programs that provide income and health care to retirees - the costs of which will soar in coming decades.

Meanwhile, a new study shows Americans eager to see the nation's finances improve, but resistant to cuts in government services or higher taxes to accomplish that goal.

The budget battle engulfing Washington can be thought of in three parts: current domestic non-security spending, future domestic non-security spending, and so-called entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. Although legislators of both parties and the White House are positioning themselves in all three arenas, it is current spending that is grabbing today’s headlines.

Republicans want to drastically slash what the federal government spends this year. Democrats and the White House do not. With the government’s authorization to spend set to expire in coming days, the very real possibility of a federal shut-down looms unless a deal can be struck.

At the same time, lawmakers are tasked with mapping out next year’s funding. President Barack Obama began the discussion this week by submitting his 2012 budget to Congress that proposes a five-year spending freeze and limiting or ending tax breaks for the wealthy and major corporations.

Republicans, like Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, were not impressed. "Over the last couple of years, the president and Congress have been spending like drunken sailors. Spending as a percentage of our economy is at levels we have not seen since World War II," he said.

Tempers flared when the president’s budget director, Jacob Lew, testified on Capitol Hill this week. Republican Representative Tom Price accused Lew and the administration of avoiding an open and honest discussion about the nation’s fiscal imbalances.

Price: "When does that discussion begin?"
Lew: "Congressman, if you look at what was going on ..."
Price: "Mr. Director, when does that discussion begin?"
Lew: "I am happy to answer that question if you give me a moment."
Price: "You are not answering the question. You haven’t answered ..."
Lew: "The president put down a budget that we think takes the first and very important step of showing how we get to a sustainable deficit by the middle of the decade."

The president’s call for a spending freeze does not go far enough for Republicans, but goes too far for many progressive Democrats. Oregon Congressman Peter Defazio says spending restraint alone will not balance the budget. "You can’t get there simply by cutting. So let’s get real," he said.

Domestic non-security, non-entitlement spending accounts for less than 15 percent of federal expenditures. Members of both parties, as well as the Obama administration, agree that America’s long term fiscal health will continue to be imperiled until revenue shortfalls for programs like Medicare are corrected.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, "Over time, you are going to see our commitments on entitlements start to eat away a much more dramatic share of GDP [U.S. gross domestic product] over time, and that is untenable, unsustainable."

But Republicans are slamming the president for failing to include entitlement reform proposals in his budget. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Mr. Obama of ignoring the advice of his own deficit commission, which recommended an overhaul of federal spending commitments to the aged and disadvantaged. "We are still waiting for the president to lead. One thing I can tell you: there will be no entitlement reform without presidential leadership," he said.

Administration officials say entitlement reform proposals will be forthcoming, once revenue shortfalls in other parts of the budget are addressed. Meanwhile, Democrats accuse Republicans of fiscal hypocrisy, noting that America had a budget surplus under a previous Democratic president - Bill Clinton - that was turned into a deficit under his Republican successor, George W. Bush.

U.S. politicians are responding to a mixed and contradictory message from the American people, according to Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center, which issued a study this week on public attitudes towards government spending and debt.

"Cutting domestic spending gets a lot of support these days in the abstract. But when you get down to the individual line items [in the budget], people recognize the benefits of those programs, and often tend to prefer increased spending in a lot of these areas over decreased spending," he said.

Polling conducted by the Pew Research Center suggests Americans want to see shared sacrifice when it comes to budget cuts, and a mixed approach overall to close the budget gap. "The vast majority of Americans say it is going to take a combination of both tax increases and spending cuts to really address the deficit, and that crossed party lines," he said.

An appetite for a mixed approach would seem to favor President Obama’s budget plan. Yet the American people just elected a Republican-led House of Representatives, and boosted Republican numbers in the Senate. The vast majority of new Republicans made campaign promises to drastically cut federal spending and steadfastly oppose any tax hikes. So far, they are holding firm on those pledges.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs