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Senate Momentum Builds for a Deficit-Cutting Deal

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad warned of the risks to the country’s long-term fiscal health if a bipartisan deal isn’t struck soon to reduce deficit spending.

Republicans and Democrats vowed to push forward Tuesday with bipartisan efforts to reach a grand deficit-cutting deal even though President Barack Obama largely ignored the issue in his fiscal 2012 budget.

A growing coalition of Senators is working to bring the $4 trillion deficit reduction package proposed by Obama’s fiscal commission to the floor, said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who is leading the effort with Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Tom Coburn (Okla.), as well as Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Many more Senators support the idea.

“I think you guys are going to be surprised by the number of Senators who are engaged,” Warner said Tuesday.

Obama’s budget blueprint, released Monday, had some “good first steps,” he said,  but the bipartisan group is pushing for much more.

Conrad gave the president’s budget good marks, but only for the first year. The North Dakota Democrat said Obama failed to deal with the long-term challenges and warned of the risks to the country’s future unless a bipartisan debt deal is reached soon.

Conrad pleaded with White House budget director Jacob Lew for the administration to start providing guidance on how to bring together a deficit-slashing plan.

“Somehow, somewhere, we have got to find a way, and the administration has a big responsibility to [show] their vision of how this process comes together,” Conrad said. “We don’t have a lot of time. Sometime very soon there has got to be a negotiation” between House and Senate leaders and the White House, Conrad said. “The seriousness of that to the country can not be overstated.”

House Republican leaders and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), meanwhile, released a joint statement vowing to put forward a budget plan of their own that takes on entitlement reform even as they prepare to pass a continuing resolution that contains $100 billion in midyear budget cuts to Obama’s 2011 budget request. Republicans have criticized Obama for failing to address entitlements in his 2012 budget proposal.

“Our budget will lead where the President has failed, and it will include real entitlement reforms so that we can have a conversation with the American people about the challenges we face and the need to chart a new path to prosperity,” they said in a joint statement.

And even though he didn’t tackle entitlements in his $3.7 trillion budget, Obama vowed Tuesday to push for a bipartisan deal on the issue.

At a news conference called to defend his budget, Obama accused his critics of being too impatient with him.

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