By Erik Wasson - 05/07/11 01:55 PM EDT
House conservatives appear comfortable with being unable to get Medicare reform in exchange for the debt ceiling being raised and are coalescing around other strong demands including enactment of a balanced budget amendment.
Tea Party-backed freshmen and the Republican Study Committee are reprising their roles, which were established during talks this spring over 2011 spending, pushing leadership to escalate demands.
The RSC and GOP freshmen got leadership to increase demands from $35 billion in cuts to $61 billion. Ultimately, $38.5 billion in cuts were achieved and conservatives said that was only made possible through their persistent demands.
On Thursday, deficit talks began, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden and aimed at finding some budget compromise that will get Republicans to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2 when it will be breached.
The RSC is preparing to release as early as next week a three-pronged demand in exchange for a higher debt ceiling.
Members said that the positions are not finalized but they include a balanced budget amendment, a medium term cap on spending at about 18 percent of gross domestic product, and cuts to the 2012 budget that go deeper than those called for by the House’s 2012 budget resolution.
Interviewed Friday, GOP freshmen said that they need to see 2012 budget cuts as part of the debt ceiling resolution because they do not trust future congresses to abide by spending caps alone.
The cuts have to come from discretionary spending and cannot be from future outlays due to mandatory programs, they said.
“If all of the pain is in the next Congress, I will vote against it,” Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. He said he has not set a number on the size of the cuts.
He said he would be pleased to see Medicare reform now in exchange for the debt ceiling increase but it is not the only option for cuts.
The GOP is looking at $750 billion in non-healthcare mandatory cuts from the 2012 budget resolution and Lankford said this would be a good starting point for the “medium term” part of the solution. The cuts include reductions to farm subsidies, federal workforce retirement contributions and savings due to tort reform.
He said he wants to see spending caps in the medium term and a balanced budget amendment in the long term. He said he will not support a debt failsafe trigger that could lead to tax increases.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan) said he is holding out for a balanced budget amendment and that is his “number one” priority, if the debt limit is to be increased beyond the end of the fiscal year.
If the deal on the table is anything less, such as a combination of spending cuts and caps, he said he would have to run it by his constituents.
“I am hesitant to accept a package that is pinned on future cuts. Current Congress can’t bind a future Congress. Washington has demonstrated without a doubt,” he said.
He said he wants to see Medicare reform, such as the 2012 budget’s plan to turn Medicare into a type of voucher system “as soon as possible.
Cuts for 2012 would have to at least get the discretionary budget reduced by $100 billion, he said, to make up for the failure to do so in the 2011 budget fight.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said he has developed three scenarios under which he would vote for a debt ceiling increase: enactment of a balanced budget amendment, “significant cuts” beginning immediately, or if the debt ceiling is raised by such a small amount that it must be raised every month until the election.
He said the last strategy would allow Republicans to continue to highlight the nations fiscal woes in the lead up to the election and help them win back the Senate and White House and thereby ensure real change.
Brooks said “substantive” cuts could come from changes to Medicare and Medicaid but he was flexible on the source.
Cuts must come in the 2012 budget, he said. If the cuts only come out of the $750 billion in future mandatory spending it will not be sufficient, he said.
Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), the sponsor of a balanced budget bill, said he is holding out for it to be enacted in exchange for the raising of the debt ceiling.
“We have got an opportunity we haven’t had in years to get a balanced budget amendment,” he said.
He said the additional cuts are needed and they cannot be “just around the edges" as they were in the 2011 fight.
Freshmen said that the fight over the 2011 continuing resolution (CR) has taught them a lot about spending gimmicks and how Democrats can pass off illusory cuts in future years as real.
“The CR was a great practice round,” Lankford said.