Budget gurus to debt negotiators: Get off the Sunday talk shows

The White House and House Republicans need to stop posturing and lock themselves behind closed doors to hammer out a fiscal deal now, two budget experts said Monday.

Former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin said that now is the time for leaders to embrace the type of bold plan the two budget gurus have offered up. 

“They need to get off the Sunday shows,” Rivlin told reporters.

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“They actually have to start negotiating ... not have discussions on the tube,” said Domenici, a former Senate Budget chairman. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) went on Fox News Sunday to blast the latest deficit offer from the White House as essentially a joke. Lead White House negotiator and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also appeared on the Sunday shows to argue it is up to the GOP to move the talks forward with their own offer.

The back-and-forth has Washington bracing for a stalemate that could lead to a recession if nothing is done to prevent a collection of scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts. 

Domenici and Rivlin, both of the Bipartisan Policy Center, have revised a 2010 deficit grand bargain and are urging negotiators to embrace it like a life raft now. 

The new plan drops a controversial sales tax but includes items Democrats and Republicans hate, including $1.5 trillion in new tax revenue, close to the $1.6 trillion being sought by the White House that led to criticism from Boehner.

On the other had, it also calls for a transformation of Medicare from a single fee-for-service plan to one with competition — similar to the ideas from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It embraces malpractice tort reform, and would reform Social Security as part of the deal, not as a separate negotiation like the White House wants. 

Domenici said leaders need to get behind closed doors. She said retreating to private talks would allow both sides to avoid the zero-sum game of “who blinked first?”

“We perceive that the current negotiations are not going well,” Rivlin said. She said that there is support behind the scenes for Medicare reforms that resemble premium support, if they are couched as an expansion of the existing privatized Medicare Advantage program.

“If you keep tying it to Paul Ryan’s original plan, no one is going to be for that ... not even Paul,” she said. “It certainly got trashed in the campaign.”

Ryan in 2011 proposed eliminating traditional fee-for-service Medicare and replacing it with private plans. Rivlin-Domenici would keep traditional Medicare in place and have more generous caps on government payments to help seniors pay for private plans. 

Rivlin and Domenici said that no new cuts need to be made to annual appropriations and the focus must be on healthcare.