Budget

Biden’s whole new gang of six

The deficit negotiators being brought together by Vice President Joe Biden on May 5 have strong opposing views on how to deal with the national debt and have each hurled a lot of rhetoric on the issue. This has led many to conclude the “Biden Commission” talks face an uphill climb.

Originally proposed by President Obama as a 16-member commission led by Biden, six lawmakers have been appointed to work on a debt-reduction plan.

{mosads}The contrast between the new commission, made up of three senators and three House members, and the existing Gang of Six senators, who have emphasized a need to embrace compromises on spending cuts, entitlement reforms and tax policy changes, is strong.

But Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition points out the Biden gang members all have deep roots in the leadership and this could bode well for a deal.

“This is not the personnel that I would pick for a deficit panel,” he said. “They are the people who are going to have to bless some sort of agreement.”

Some of the members have sounded more conciliatory notes than others on coming up with a deal.

Click each name to see where the lawmaker stands on debt and deficit issues:
Sens. Baucus | Inouye | Kyl
Reps. Cantor | Clyburn | Van Hollen


Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)

Sen. Max BaucusSenate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus is the only member of the Biden gang to have served on the president’s fiscal commission and tellingly he voted against its plan. He said the spending cuts were too deep and it left tax loopholes in place.

Baucus is the Senate gatekeeper on tax and entitlements.

“I have studied the Deficit Commission recommendations at length – and I can tell you they are wrong for Montana and wrong for rural communities across the country. Reducing our federal deficit is imperative, but we cannot cut the deficit at the expense of veterans, seniors, ranchers, farmers and hard-working families,” Baucus said in December.

“The Deficit Commission recommendations would cut pensions for military members, lower Social Security payments, raise the retirement age and limit Medicare benefits. Cuts like that hit rural America the hardest because we proudly have more veterans and seniors than most other states.

He also blasted recommendations to impose a gas tax and cut farm subsidies.

“At the same time, the Commission recommendations do not take any aggressive steps to crack down on corporations that hide their money overseas to avoid paying their taxes,” he said. 

At an April 13 hearing on the deficit, Baucus outlined his criteria for a plan.

He emphasized that cuts must not come so soon that they hurt the economic recovery.

“First, everything must be on the table. Our deficit challenges are simply that significant. Second, we should not scapegoat Social Security… Third, any deficit reduction package should be balanced. In general, the package should not be tilted too much towards spending cuts or too much toward revenue increases… And fourth, spending cuts do not necessarily mean benefit cuts. We have to stretch our administrative dollars further and make our programs more efficient,” Baucus said.

On the last point, Baucus has blasted the GOP’s 2012 House budget resolution which proposes to convert Medicare to a type of voucher system. 

“I won’t stand by and let the House end Medicare and hand our seniors’ and retired military service members health over to private insurance companies,” he said on the Senate floor.”

Baucus is more enthusiastic about tax reform, another piece of the deficit reduction pie. 

“We need to work together to reform and simplify our tax system in a way that creates more American jobs, makes our country more competitive and bolsters our economy in a fair way,” he said in reaction to this year’s State of the Union.

Click each name to see where the lawmaker stands on debt and deficit issues:
Sens. Baucus | Inouye | Kyl
Reps. Cantor | Clyburn | Van Hollen


Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii)

Sen. Daniel InouyeSenate Appropriations Committee Chairman Inouye is the Senate gatekeeper on discretionary spending. 

He has resisted GOP cuts to spending and is a strong advocate of fiscal stimulus.

Inouye pushed an omnibus spending bill in December that would have increased overall spending while containing thousands of earmarks. This bill went down to defeat, presaging the months of spending talks that led to the April 8 spending deal. 

A long time champion of earmarked spending, he reluctantly accepted an earmark moratorium on Feb. 1 

“I continue to support the Constitutional right of members of Congress to direct investments to their states and districts under the fiscally responsible and transparent earmarking process that we have established. However, the handwriting is clearly on the wall. The president has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them,” he said.

In an April 14 floor speech on the 2011 spending cuts deal, Inouye said he thought the compromise worked out between both parties, which spared many cherished Democratic programs from cuts, could offer a model for bigger deficit talks. 

“Mr. President, I believe this bill provides a road map on how we can continue to work across party lines to achieve what is necessary for the country,” he said. “Both parties feel strongly about their recommendations and the structure of future budgets.  The philosophical divisions are wide…. Because of this experience I became more optimistic that we can find a way to work with our House colleagues and come up with a deficit reduction plan that would represent all of our best efforts to act in the Country’s interest.” 

Click each name to see where the lawmaker stands on debt and deficit issues:
Sens. Baucus | Inouye | Kyl
Reps. Cantor | Clyburn | Van Hollen


Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)

Sen. Jon KylSenate Minority Whip Kyl is second-in-command in the Republican conference and a staunch opponent of any tax increases. Kyl was a key negotiator with Biden in the December deal which kept the Bush-era tax rates in place.

According to wire reports, Kyl in Latvia this week said he wants to see “strict” spending caps in exchange for raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

This could represent a significant shift for Kyl away from other demands.

Kyl has a key proponent of passing a balanced budget amendment, something which all 41 GOP senators have now signed onto. Kyl’s own version of a BBA would cap spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product. 

Republicans ahead of the May 5 meeting are trying to settle on their demands in exchange for a debt ceiling increase. Some in the party, such as strategist Karl Rove are arguing that at balanced budget amendment is too tall an order, and would face an uncertain and lengthy path for ratification by the states.

He has said he is in favor of comprehensive tax reform, so long as it reduces rates and no further revenue is added to the Treasury.

He also has argued, in July 2010, that “you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans” in contrast to spending which must be fully paid for.

Kyl is seen as being staunchly against looking more deeply into the defense budget to balance the budget.

Kyl came out strongly in favor of passing the House 2012 budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.).

“Congressman Ryan’s budget reflects the kind of difficult, and politically-unpopular, choices that lawmakers will need to make in order to do something about our unsustainable spending and debt,” he said in an April 11 statement. “I think Congressman Ryan’s budget proposal is an effective blueprint for economic growth.”

Click each name to see where the lawmaker stands on debt and deficit issues:
Sens. Baucus | Inouye | Kyl
Reps. Cantor | Clyburn | Van Hollen


Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Rep. Eric CantorHouse Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is highly popular with Tea Party-backed freshmen and pushed hard to maximize spending cuts in the 2011 spending deal agreed to on April 8.

He has openly questioned the purpose of the “Biden commission.”

In an April 21 statement he reiterated the GOP demand for spending reductions in exchange for a raising of the debt ceiling.

“Republicans will not agree to raise the debt limit without binding budget reforms and immediate spending cuts that will guarantee we don’t continue these bad spending practices in the future.  We can no longer afford to kick the can, and since both parties contributed to getting us into this mess, both have an obligation to get us out.  The immediacy of a debt limit increase and a plan to get our fiscal house in order are not – as some in Washington have suggested – mutually exclusive,” he said.

The Republicans have yet to release formal demands. Spending caps were tried before in the 1985 Graham-Rudman-Hollings Act but Congress ultimately was able to avert automatic spending cuts, hence the call for “binding reforms” by Cantor.

Requiring supermajority votes to spend above set levels, or a Constitutional amendment are two ways caps can be made binding.

The 2012 budget resolution has caps for discretionary spending, overall spending and for debt as a percentage of the economy. 

Click each name to see where the lawmaker stands on debt and deficit issues:
Sens. Baucus | Inouye | Kyl
Reps. Cantor | Clyburn | Van Hollen


Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.)

Rep. James ClyburnAssistant Minority Leader Clyburn is the number three person in the House Democratic Caucus. 

A close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Clyburn is seen as guardian of social spending.

In an April 15 press conference with Pelosi, Clyburn hurled lightning at the 2012 GOP budget.

“This plan is a road to ruin for the middle-income and low- income in our society,” he said. “Republicans are pushing the same agenda they’ve always had: ending the safety nets that are so important to our citizens.” 

“It block-grants Medicaid, slashing nursing home care and would lead to 50 different benefit programs across the country. That will take us back to a place of my childhood. I do not believe that the benefits of our great nation ought to be predicated upon what state you may happen to have been born in or unfortunate to have been born there,” he said.

In April 11 television appearances, Clyburn said he wants to focus on special interest tax breaks.

“My plan going forward would be let’s get rid of these subsidies for big oil companies. That is a $40 billion to $50 billion revenue there. Let’s get rid of these tax breaks of people who are creating jobs overseas. That’s another significant $25 billion to $30 billion, if I believe all the experts,” he said on CNN’s “American Morning.”

To go beyond this, Clyburn, like Obama, wants to expand health care reform to control costs.

“Democrats tackled entitlement reform in the Affordable Care Act, cutting waste, fraud and abuse from Medicare. And the program was made solvent for 14 years,” he said.

Click each name to see where the lawmaker stands on debt and deficit issues:
Sens. Baucus | Inouye | Kyl
Reps. Cantor | Clyburn | Van Hollen


Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

Rep. Chris Van HollenHouse Budget Committee ranking member Van Hollen is perhaps the most sympathetic person on the Biden gang to the recommendations of the fiscal commission. He has talked about compromise, but at the same time has launched fiery rhetoric at the House GOP budget. 

Van Hollen has said that the fiscal commission spending cuts may be too deep, but he believes a balanced approach of cuts and tax increases is the right path.

Van Hollen sponsored an alternative House Democratic budget to the Ryan plan that gives a good sense of how he would do things.

To achieve the cuts, Democrats looked hard at the Pentagon. Like the Obama budget, the Van Hollen alternative would freeze spending for five years at 2010 levels. They would not cut low-income heating assistance or Community Development Block Grants however.

He has also sponsored a bill that would give the president new powers to eliminate wasteful spending. The power, known as “line-item veto light”, would allow the president to submit a bill rescinding specific items within 45 days of an appropriations bill being enacted and that bill would be fast-tracked.

In an April 13 speech he made the case for gradual spending cuts and for going after the Pentagon budget.

He said “a balanced approach to the deficit must include both spending cuts and revenues, and our budget will include a return to the Clinton era tax rates for the very top income earners.”

Click each name to see where the lawmaker stands on debt and deficit issues:
Sens. Baucus | Inouye | Kyl
Reps. Cantor | Clyburn | Van Hollen

Tags Eric Cantor Joe Biden Max Baucus Paul Ryan

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