Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

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.

“This is not a matter of ‘You go first’ or ‘I go first,’” Obama said. “This is a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go and then ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over. And I think that can happen.”

Obama said Tuesday that his fiscal commission’s plan still provides a “framework” for negotiations, even though he didn’t put it in his budget and doesn’t support all of its recommendations. Obama’s budget cut $1.1 trillion in deficits over a decade — about a quarter of what the commission proposed.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said there is still time to reach a deal, even though Obama missed an opportunity with his budget. “We are waiting for presidential leadership,” the Kentucky Republican said.

“I’ve been trying to get him to have that conversation for two years,” he said, adding that it doesn’t have to be in public.

Sen. Tom Carper, who is also pushing for a broad agreement, said he talked to the Democratic co-chairman of the fiscal commission, Erskine Bowles, about a week ago. “I told him this is a proposal that has legs, and I think time will prove me correct,” the Delaware Democrat said.

“The Senate in particular is very serious about responding to the challenge,” said Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who also supports the commission blueprint. “It spreads the pain equally.”

But hanging over the debate are the 2012 elections, and both parties are worried that the other will use specific proposals against them.

The attacks are already starting, with Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer warning GOP leaders.

“If Paul Ryan’s Roadmap is any indication, the House Republicans’ idea of entitlement reform will be privatizing Social Security and turning Medicare into a voucher system,” the New York lawmaker said in a statement. “Any such plans will be dead on arrival in the Senate. Democrats will fight any attempt to break our promise to America’s seniors. We want to extend the life of Social Security and eliminate waste in Medicare, but we will not go along with proposals that seek to end these programs.”

Obama, meanwhile, tried to sound hopeful about the prospects for a broad agreement between the warring sides, noting that he successfully worked with Republicans on tax cuts in the lame-duck session. There is an impatience in Washington, D.C., when things don’t happen immediately, he said.

“My goal here is to actually solve the problem. It’s not to get a good headline on the first day,” Obama said.

But talking about cutting the deficit is a lot easier than actually doing something about it; indeed, a parade of Republican and Democratic Senators have been pushing for budget caps, constitutional amendments and other mechanisms first rather than lead with their chins on painful cuts to Social Security or Medicare.

“I think a lot of people talk about what they want to cut, but they get very nervous when they get to the specifics,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.

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