By Mike Lillis - 03/24/14 06:00 AM EDT
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called on Congress Monday to lay the “groundwork” for a budget “grand bargain,” warning that a failure to do so risks upending the United State’s status as the world’s premier economic power.
In a slight shift of message, the Maryland Democrat, long an outspoken proponent of a sweeping deficit-reduction deal, acknowledged that such a package is going nowhere in an acrimonious election year. Instead, he's challenging lawmakers from both parties to put aside their differences and take incremental steps towards a balanced agreement before the U.S. becomes, in his words, “a nation that can’t invest in its own people.”
Even by lowering the bar, Hoyer faces daunting odds. Not only is Congress shifting rapidly from legislative to campaign mode ahead of November's midterm election, but President Obama — another “grand bargain” champion — has seen his clout with Congress diminish with falling approval ratings.
On top of that, Congress is running low on must-past legislation that might provide a vehicle for some of the controversial budget changes of the order Hoyer is urging. And even Republican plans for sweeping fiscal reforms, such as Rep. Dave Camp's (R-Mich.) recently unveiled tax policy overhaul, have been largely ignored by GOP leaders, who don't want to highlight party divisions in a high-stakes election year.
Hoyer was quick to acknowledge the impediments, but he says there are smaller steps Congress could pass, even in an election year, to lay the foundation for broader reforms next year and beyond.
“It’s at this moment, when we don’t have a crisis breathing down our necks, that we have the best chance to lay the groundwork for the hard decisions we will need to make,” he said.
Hoyer said a package of expiring tax benefits, known collectively as the “tax extenders,” offers Congress one such opportunity for fiscal reform, while a must-pass transportation bill provides the chance for new infrastructure investments. He's also pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated will reduce deficit spending by almost $160 billion over a decade.
“Congress will have a number of opportunities this year to make progress toward our goal of long-term fiscal sustainability,” he said, “and we should not, and we can not, afford to miss those kind of opportunities, as we have over the past four years.”
— This story was updated at 1:15 p.m.