–Lawmakers Eager See If Admin Is Willing to Take On Entitlement Reform
–Budget Experts Expects Admin To Offer ‘Tactical Budget’
–Bipartisan Group of Senators Ponder Long-Term Deficit Cut Deal
–House GOP Seems More Intent In Cutting Parts of Discretionary Budget
By John Shaw
WASHINGTON (MNI) – While the prospects of a broad, bipartisan and
consequential long-term deficit reduction agreement this year have
always been remote, budget experts say they hinge crucially on whether
President Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget signals a willingness to
tackle entitlement reform.
Obama will submit his fiscal year 2012 budget Monday, February 14.
Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, says that
the president signalled in his State of the Union address that he will
support the concept of deficit reduction but did not offer specific
plans to reform any of the key entitlements.
“Unfortunately, I think the president’s State of the Union speech
told us what we didn’t want to hear, that it’s still not the time to try
to tackle our fiscal problems,” he said.
“If he had anything dramatic in mind for the budget, I think Obama
would have hinted at it a few weeks ago. At this point probably the best
thing we could get out of the new budget is a call from the president
for some kind of bipartisan summit,” Bixby said.
Bill Frenzel, a former Republican congressman who is a guest
scholar at the Brookings Institution, agrees that Obama is not likely to
offer concrete plans for entitlement reform next week.
“I think this is going to be a normal, even a tactical budget. I’m
not expecting big things from it. About the only thing he can say that
would offer much hope is a call for some kind of bipartisan budget
negotiation,” he said.
“I wish I could say that I see momentum building for serious
bipartisan budget work. But I don’t. I see a lot more political
posturing and war dances ahead before we finally get down to serious
work,” Frenzel said.
A number of lawmakers have said that there will be no real effort
to cut the long-term deficit unless the president leads the charge.
“There is zero chance of entitlement reform if the president is not
for it. If he’s not in the game we might as well quit,” Sen. Jeff
Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee said
“I’m being practical about it,” he added.
Both Bixby and Frenzel said that the most encouraging development
on the fiscal horizon is the effort by Senate Budget Committee Chairman
Kent Conrad to craft a multi-year bipartisan budget agreement along the
lines of the recommendation of the Simpson-Bowles commission,
Conrad continues to say that it’s imperative for Congress’s budget
panels to develop a long-term fiscal plan and cites the Simpson-Bowles
plan as a model of a credible long-term deficit reduction plan.
“They got it about right,” he said, of the panel’s plan that
outlined nearly $4 trillion in 10 year deficit reduction.
Conrad has said a deficit reduction plan should be ready when a
debt limit “crunch” occurs on Capitol Hill in May.
Both Bixby and Frenzel they have been surprised at how tightly
focused House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is on securing $32
billion in spending cuts on the rest of the fiscal year 2011 budget
rather than working for a broader deficit reduction effort.
“Both what the White House is doing and what Ryan is doing seem to
be task avoidance strategies. They clearly don’t go to the heart of our
fiscal problem,” Bixby said.
** Market News International Washington Bureau: (202) 371-2121 **