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Senators in Deficit ‘State of Shock’

CBO’s Fiscal Jolt Gets Members From Both Parties Calling for Swift Action

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad is calling for a budget summit to address the nation’s fiscal challenges. The North Dakota Democrat said the Congressional Budget Office’s new deficit estimates are a “wake-up call.”

A Congressional Budget Office forecast of a record $1.5 trillion deficit this year and potentially an additional $12 trillion in the coming decade gave a jolt of energy Wednesday to bipartisan talks aimed at reaching a grand compromise — even as leaders kept up their fiscal bickering.

“I think everyone is in a collective state of shock right now over the CBO numbers,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said, predicting even more momentum for the GOP drive to reduce spending.

The day was marked with finger-pointing and a bevy of seen-before proposals for cutting spending and slashing the deficit. Democrats questioned President Barack Obama’s earmark veto promise from the State of the Union address, and Republicans blamed the president for adding to the deficit.

Several bipartisan groups of Senators have already been meeting to hash out broad deficit reduction proposals, and the new estimates are only the latest “wake-up call,” Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said.

The North Dakota Democrat reiterated his call for a budget summit with the House, Senate and White House aimed at cutting a long-term deal.

Conrad and other supporters of last year’s fiscal commission plan, which proposed $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the coming decade, are also meeting behind the scenes to plot their next steps. And Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said they are hoping to introduce their bill to implement the fiscal commission’s recommendations soon.

Senate Republicans separately held a luncheon on fiscal issues where the CBO forecast loomed large, and 19 Republican Senators, led by Orrin Hatch (Utah), proposed a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Like Conrad’s summit idea, this amendment proposal is nothing new.

Still, Senators said they found new urgency after the State of the Union and with the CBO numbers.

“I think everyone’s finally coming to the realization that we don’t have time,” given the seriousness of the problem, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said.

“At the earliest possible time we’ve got to come to an agreement on the deficit, and it’s got to be a compromise,” Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) said.

In the meantime, Republicans and Democrats sniped at each other even as they called for bipartisanship, and the parties are still far apart with a March 4 deadline looming for funding the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blamed Obama for adding $3 trillion to the debt on his watch and said the public wanted significant spending cuts, not merely the five-year domestic discretionary spending freeze that the president proposed in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

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