Hoyer: Bowles-Simpson vote was 'premature;' 'grand bargain' still possible

The recent quashing of a deficit grand bargain doesn't spell doom for similar legislation down the line, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.

House lawmakers last month clobbered a bipartisan budget amendment – offered by Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) – modeled on the deficit-slashing recommendations from President Obama's 2010 fiscal commission.

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Although 100 House members – 60 Democrats and 40 Republicans – are on record backing a pain-for-everyone approach to cut entitlements and raise revenues simultaneously, only 38 voted for the LaTourette-Cooper proposal.
 
Hoyer, who opposed the amendment, said this week that the March vote was "premature" but won't end the push – or the need – for a sweeping plan to rein in deficit spending, which has topped $1 trillion for several years running.

"I thought it was premature, because I think there was clearly, self-evidently not a consensus – and I thought there was not a consensus – and my view was that we needed to continue to work on creating consensus," Hoyer said Tuesday during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol.

But, Hoyer added, "I frankly don't think that members who voted one way or the other – certainly I fall into that category – believe that that locks them into [a future position on a deficit grand bargain]."

Hoyer suggested the issue could resurface this year, warning of "a fiscal storm" in the post-election lame duck session, when Congress will have to decide if it wants to extend – and how to pay for – a long list of expiring benefits, including the Bush-era tax cuts, the payroll tax holiday, emergency unemployment insurance and the pay hike for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

"There were many more supporters of the concept of doing this than were voting [for it]," Hoyer said of the grand bargain. "It's been talked about conceptually more than specifically, and we need to talk specifically. We need to talk real issues."

Headed by former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyo.), Obama's 18-member fiscal commission was charged with crafting a sweeping plan for cutting deficits and setting the country on a sustainable fiscal path.

It didn't get far. Only 11 commission members supported the final proposal – three shy of the supermajority required to send the package to Congress.

The notion of hiking taxes was a major hurdle for Republicans, particularly those endorsing the no-taxes pledge sponsored by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. The budget recommendations also left the door open for entitlement benefit cuts, which stirred opposition from some of the liberal Democrats on the panel.

Still, LaTourette and Cooper had hoped this year's budget face-off – featuring competing proposals from Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) – would offer the chance to build momentum behind a comprehensive plan to cut trillions in deficit spending while spreading the pain equally enough to attract members of both parties. Instead, more than 90 percent of the House opposed it.

"I got clobbered by some real pros," LaTourette said afterward, referring to the special interest groups – both liberal and conservative – that had lobbied tenaciously against the amendment.

Hoyer said Tuesday that the LaTourette-Cooper amendment was a sideshow amid the partisan budget fight, and leadership didn't want to muddy the political messaging around the central proposals.

"Very frankly," he said, "the issue really was the Van Hollen budget versus the Ryan budget."

Hoyer's comments come during a week when House Republicans are pushing a tax cut bill they say will help small businesses hire new workers amid an unemployment crisis.

"If we are going to get people back to work, we have got to help the job engine that produces those jobs, which is small businesses,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday.

Democrats have hammered the bill, saying it will benefit wealthy Americans, rather than small businesses, while piling almost $50 billion onto the national debt.

"If we're going to be serious about giving confidence to the economy, to the American people, it will be because we put our country on a fiscally sustainable path," Hoyer said. "Continuing to blow holes in revenues will not do that."