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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs