Two of the Senate’s top advocates of a long-term deficit-cutting plan said lawmakers must continue to press for legislation that can pass this year, even as they disagreed on whether an election-year deal is possible.
Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, and Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said addressing the nation’s debt deserves an almost singular focus because a debt-cutting deal could boost the economy and investments.
Corker said Obama’s focus in last night’s State of the Union speech on tax increases for the wealthy -- opposed by Republicans -- signals another year of partisan feuding that provides little hope for progress on reducing the deficit.
“What I heard last night is that for the next year we’re really not going to do much,” Corker said at a Washington forum hosted today by Bloomberg Government and Bloomberg Businessweek.
Warner, co-leader of a bipartisan group of senators who sought unsuccessfully to reach a deal last year, said he’s more hopeful because in a “marginally recovering economy” lawmakers recognize that voters will expect action.
Further, he said, lawmakers in both chambers must realize that without a reduction in the deficit, the next president will need to seek a debt-limit increase as one of his first actions.
“This problem doesn’t self-correct,” Warner said. “If we can get at it this year, let’s do it.”
Warner and Corker said they are working on legislation that would include ideas from the co-chairmen of Obama’s debt- reduction commission. The commission in December 2010 rejected the proposal by its leaders, former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and former Senator Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican.
The Bowles-Simpson plan included an overhaul of the U.S. tax code, cutting rates while eliminating tax breaks and imposing significant cuts in spending on entitlement and other government programs. Its goal was to slash about $4 trillion over a decade from the budget deficit.
House and Senate leaders haven’t endorsed letting such a proposal come to a vote.
In his speech last night, Obama didn’t mention the Bowles- Simpson plan, although he said he’s willing to keep negotiating on spending cuts and tax increases that could be combined into a broader plan.
Reaching a Deal
Obama emphasized his willingness last year to reach a deal with Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Their conversations failed after Boehner said Obama was pushing for too many tax increases.
“As I told the speaker this summer, I’m prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long-term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors,” Obama said. “But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.”
Warner said today that Obama didn’t push hard enough in the speech for an ambitious deficit-cutting plan. He said he preferred that the president endorse something similar to the Bowles-Simpson proposal.
“I would have liked to have heard last night more from the president about the notion of challenging us in Congress,” he said.
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