Congress Digs in for Budget Fight
Policy + Politics

Congress Digs in for Budget Fight

After two weeks of sometimes-tumultuous meetings at home with constituents over the Republican proposal to privatize Medicare, lawmakers return to the fiscal wars this week, bracing for a lengthy battle over the nation’s solvency.

While Congress begins taking up proposals that are designed more to score political points than seriously address the national debt, the critical action will be happening behind closed doors.

President Obama starts it off Monday night by hosting a dinner party for a bipartisan collection of congressional leaders and top lawmakers from various House and Senate committees. Then on Thursday, Vice President Biden brings congressional leaders to Blair House for the first of what could be many discussions about how to reach a deal on the debt limit and then about an even longer-term issue: Medicare and Medicaid.

Congress must consider whether to raise the federal debt ceiling beyond $14.3 trillion in exchange for still-undefined budget-tightening — a debate that is certain to linger well past the preliminary deadline of May 16. That has already prompted Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to use accounting moves that would allow the United States to continue to make payments without exceeding the debt limit. But he would run out of possibilities in early July.

Setting the stage for negotiations that could last well into the summer, Democrats and Republicans criticized one another Sunday over which actions to attach to legislation extending the debt limit, with Democrats adamant that higher taxes on the wealthy and revoked tax privileges for oil companies be a part of a broad deficit-reduction package. Most Republicans refuse to consider higher taxes as part of any final deal and demand that the focus be on slashing entitlement spending.

“A lot of people think this is sort of like the magic fairy dust of budgets, that we can just make a small amount of people pay some more taxes and it will fix all of our problems,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on ABC News’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour.” “Well, let’s keep our eye on the ball. The eye on the ball is spending. And the sooner we get this thing under control, the better off everybody is going to be.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the budget panel, countered on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “The idea that we should come up with a balanced deficit-reduction plan is right. But what’s wrong is to say that if one side doesn’t get 100 percent of what it wants in terms of coming up with that plan that they will put the entire economy at risk.”

The talks being hosted by Biden have already been mocked by both parties in Congress. Some question how a group made up of lieutenants — Obama, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) are all sending subordinates — can reach deals on the most critical fiscal issues facing the nation.

“We cannot keep delegating these tough decisions to other people. Leaders need to lead,” Ryan said of the so-called Biden commission in an interview Friday with Bloomberg Television.

Read more at The Washington Post.