In a highly appropriate accident of timing, three days after President Barack Obama and Congress muddled through a budget agreement for federal spending that carries us to September, U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Mark Warner, D-Va., stopped by AJC headquarters to argue for their 10-year plan to erase the $14 trillion federal debt.
The bipartisan duo speaks to the Atlanta Rotary in a few minuts.
In the AJC session, Warner in particular called last week’s convulsions an “embarrassment” not likely to instill confidence in Congress. Pushing debate over a single year’s budget until close to a midnight deadline is bad enough, he said.
But if the same brinksmanship is used during a summer debate over the bond market – that could “spook” the bond market and set off a worldwide reaction, Warner said.
For the last six months, Chambliss and Warner have formed the core of a team of six Republican and Democratic senators trying to hammer out a formula of spending cuts and revenue increases – largely through the restriction of tax deductions – that would dig the government out of its hole.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman, last week proposed a series of spending cuts to address the deficit – but it walls off any discussion of increased revenue or cuts to defense spending. Chambliss picked up the conversation:
”Nor does he deal with Social Security, and he makes a major reform in Medicare, which frankly goes much, much further than the debt commission. If there’s anywhere I think the debt commission’s report is week is in the area of health care cost containment.
“Paul’s a smart guy. You have to understand that he’s got to get a budget passed. And his guys want to see spending reduced. We want to see spending reduced. That’s a major part of what we’re talking about.
“But he’s talking about non-defense, discretionary spending – which is 12 percent of the budget. Now, you could cut out that whole 12 percent and you wouldn’t solve this problem of $14 trillion in debt. But you’ve got to have enough money to run the government, and then you’ve got to have excess money to start paying down on that debt.
“His idea on Medicare I think is intriguing. I’m not familiar enough with the details to know whether or not it’s practical.
“The fact that he doesn’t have any reduction in defense spending – it’s not that I disagree with him, but if you look at the amount of spending within the Defense Department, you’ve got a $700 billion discretionary defense budget that we’re looking at right now. $118 billion of that is for Iraq and Afghanistan. You can’t encroach on that, but still that leaves almost $600 billion in defense spending. If we can’t find some waste, fraud and abuse within that, then we have no business being in Congress.
“So defense spending has got to be on the table. It’s got to share in the sacrifice.”
”I think it’s a serious plan. But I also think it shows the shortcoming of looking at pieces. When you try to do this plan by walling off defense, and walling off revenues, it makes it much harder…. He doesn’t balance the budget until 2040. I give him credit for serious. I give him credit for putting a plan out. But I think it again shows more so why this broader, everything-on-the-table approach that we’re taking – I believe will get more support….
“You can’t tax your way out of this, you can’t cut your way out of this, alone. You’ve also got to grow the economy. One of the things that his approach cut back dramatically on is – how do you at the same time have some structure investment, how do you make sure your not cutting back completely on your research component?”
Chambliss and Warner were also asked what they wanted to hear from Obama, who is to unveil his proposal for deficit reduction on Wednesday night. Said Chambliss:
“We welcome him engaging in the debate. I don’t know what he’s thinking, but I would hope that at some point in time he would engage with our bipartisan group. I suspect he’s going to be further to the left than our group, but I have no idea.”
”Every indication that I’ve had is that the White House is very supportive of this effort. The challenge becomes, in this political environment, just as you’ve got reaction to Ryan over here.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider