It may be different now, of course. The Senate is likely to pass a budget, under reconciliation to avoid a filibuster, that includes a substantial increase in revenue from oil companies, other corporations and wealthy individuals, along with some cuts in the growth of programs, as a counter to House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan’s budget. Maybe that will bring House and Senate leaders together, and maybe it will lead to what we need: a third $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years that would stabilize the debt-to-gross domestic product ratio at a sustainable level. It would involve compromise between the parties and chambers; $400 billion to $600 billion in revenues, most of it from reducing deductions and credits, and $600 billion to $800 billion in program reductions, most of it from entitlements, and it would alter the sequester formula to provide a more rational formula of cuts in discretionary spending than mindless, across-the-board ones.
There are relatively easy ways to get the right kind of balanced package. A formula to cap all deductions, except for the charitable ones, that can raise $400 billion over 10 years, combined with the promise of more substantial tax reform, is just that — easy. On Social Security, changing the cost-of-living formula to chained consumer price index, if combined with a more generous minimum benefit and some protections for disabled individuals, can work. I could also see a gradual increase in the retirement age — but only if there were a significantly more generous minimum benefit and reasonable early retirement option to enable those with back-breaking or mind-numbing jobs to opt for retirement and Social Security benefits at age 62. I would combine these changes with Sen. Al Franken’s idea to use a “doughnut hole” formula for Social Security taxes, leaving the current ceiling on wages subject to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act up to, say, $500,000, and then applying the FICA tax to incomes higher than that.
On Medicare, I would both strengthen the cost-cutting measures included in the Affordable Care Act and give them a chance to work — but with benchmarks every two years for the coming decade to reach the desired levels of cost reduction and automatic increases, means-tested, in premiums and co-pays if they are not met under the ACA. Another option is to have automatic cuts in doctor and other provider pay if the benchmarks are not met, adding a powerful incentive for providers to find ways to make the cost control measures work.
If the budget resolutions lead directly to this kind of compromise, I will happily eat my words about the “no budget, no pay” provision. Far more likely, of course, is that the budget resolution will not much matter; any deal, if we get one, is going to come from extra legislative negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.