Momentum builds for debt deal

Momentum builds for debt deal

Momentum appears to be building toward a grand compromise on reducing the budget deficit that could be based on recommendations from President Obama’s debt commission.

Senate Democrats will hear a pitch for using the debt commission’s proposals on Wednesday from their leading budget hawk, who is trying to hammer home the message that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue must get serious about slashing the nation’s rising debt.

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The presentation at the Senate Democratic retreat will come from Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, who dropped a reelection bid last month saying he feared it would distract him from fixing America’s fiscal condition.

Conrad is arguing that both parties must embrace Obama's debt commission plan as a starting point for seriously reducing the budget deficit. He has met with Obama’s budget director, Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewOvernight Finance: US reaches deal with ZTE | Lawmakers look to block it | Trump blasts Macron, Trudeau ahead of G-7 | Mexico files WTO complaint Obama-era Treasury secretary: Tax law will make bipartisan deficit-reduction talks harder GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system MORE, who was a key player in the tax deal reached between the White House and Senate Republicans in December, to discuss the budget.

Some Senate Republicans have also signaled a new openness to the commission's recommendations, which included calls for entitlement reforms.

The Senate’s third-ranking Republican, Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSens introduce bipartisan bill matching Zinke proposed maintenance backlog fix Supreme Court vacancy throws Senate battle into chaos Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion groups see chance to overturn Roe v. Wade with Kennedy retirement | HHS watchdog to probe detention center conditions | VA pick vows to oppose privatization MORE (Tenn.), said Tuesday that he supports the effort to find a bipartisan solution based on the debt commission plan.

Separately, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Overnight Defense: Washington reeling from Trump, Putin press conference Feehery: The long game MORE (Ky.) suggested entitlement reform could be on the table, though he said flatly that this could only happen with leadership from the president.

McConnell also warned that a deficit-reduction plan should include no tax increases. “We don’t have this problem because we tax too little,” he told reporters.

In the House, Republicans on the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday formally agreed to budget ceilings that would reduce spending this year by $32 billion, as they prepared to release a continuing resolution detailing those cuts on Thursday.

But Conrad suggested on Tuesday that both parties must embrace the commission’s goals, and that proposals such as the House GOP plan are small potatoes and would do little to lower a deficit projected to reach $1.5 trillion this year.

He wants to focus the deficit-reduction debate on the debt commission’s long-term proposals instead of the variety of proposals unveiled by lawmakers to take bites out of the budget, or to give Congress or the president tools such as a balanced-budget amendment or line-item veto to instill fiscal austerity. 

“What matters to me is an overall plan that over 10 years … gets to the level of deficit reduction in the commission plan,” he told reporters. “All the rest of this is — to me, it just doesn’t go to the heart of the problem.”

Like most Democrats, Conrad does not support deep cuts to spending this year for fear they would slow the economic recovery. But he says deeper cuts combined with entitlement and tax reforms will be critical in the long term for the nation’s fiscal health. 

The commission failed to win the supermajority necessary to secure an up-or-down congressional vote on their chairmen’s plan, which recommended defense and non-defense spending caps, entitlement reforms and the elimination of tax breaks cherished by homeowners and businesses. 

It is unclear whether escalating concerns about the budget deficit will create the political will necessary for Democrats and Republicans to rally around one plan. 

Conrad and Sens. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoMidterms will show voters are tired of taking back seat to Wall Street GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs MORE (R-Idaho), Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe real disease: Price transparency key to saving Medicare and lowering the debt Mr. President, let markets help save Medicare Pension insolvency crisis only grows as Congress sits on its hands MORE (R-Okla.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (D-Ill.) met for two hours Monday night in Durbin’s office as part of an ongoing effort to craft a bill from the commission’s recommendations. 


Conrad characterized the talks in Durbin’s office as constructive, but said it is too early for the group to produce legislative language.

The group working in Durbin’s office is coordinating its efforts with Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Dems rip Trump after Putin news conference Trump and Putin should be talking about cyber weapons and social media instead of nuclear weapons The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments MORE (D-Va.) and Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.), sources said. Those two senators are considering legislation proposing $4 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, and are basing their discussions on the debt commission’s recommendations.

Conrad also has met with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Lew in recent days about finding a way forward. He said he has not been given a preview of the 2012 president’s budget, due out Feb. 14, however, and that there has not been progress on his call for a budget summit with the president.

Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallRecord number of LGBT candidates running for governor Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Democratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat MORE (D-Colo.), who supports the debt-commission effort, said senators are still trying to figure out whhich commission recommendations to embrace. He said that breaking up the recommendations is not a good approach, since that would lessen the chances of a grand bargain that gets through Congress.

House lawmakers on Thursday will see details on how Republicans would cut $32 billion from this year’s spending when the Appropriations Committee releases a continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of the year. 

While the House GOP is proposing a spending ceiling that would reduce current spending levels by $32 billion, cuts to non-security spending will actually be even greater since security and defense spending would increase by $9 billion under the GOP plan.


This story was posted at 1:37 p.m. and last updated at 8:36 p.m.