Deficit Reduction Talks Live On

Mar 5, 2012
In The News
By Frances Seward

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Two bipartisan groups of lawmakers are working behind the scenes to revive momentum for comprehensive legislation to address the government’s fiscal woes and in particular to chart a course for long-term deficit reduction.

After the mostly abortive budget debates of the past year, which concluded with the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction not reaching agreement, the subject moved to the background. But interest is again picking up.


House Group Pushing Ahead

Simpson and Heath Shuler, D-N.C., gathered the signatures of more than 100 House lawmakers from both parties on a letter last fall urging the joint deficit reduction panel to “go big” and to propose a $4 trillion package of budget savings. “To succeed,” the group wrote, “all options for mandatory and discretionary spending must be on the table.”

Those two lawmakers are now leading a working group of six to 10 House members that is drafting deficit reduction legislation. Specifics about their plan have not been released, but it is expected to follow the contours of previous efforts by calling for a combination of mandatory and discretionary spending cuts, coupled with a revenue-raising overhaul of the tax code.

Although the leaders of the effort in the House are regarded as moderates, the larger coalition of lawmakers who backed the “go big” approach came from across the political spectrum, including those who would not usually count themselves as fiscal conservatives.

The real question, said Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., the chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition’s Task Force on Fiscal Responsibility who has been involved in the recent talks, is how many of those lawmakers will get behind the legislation once it is drafted.


‘Critical Decision’ to be Made

The House group is in contact with the Senate gang. And, although the two groups decided they could not logistically meet as one, they are sharing ideas. The unique characteristics of the two chambers might lead to differences in the legislation. But those involved say they share the same framework and goals for cutting the deficit.

The timing of when the legislation might be introduced is also uncertain. The House is expected to consider a budget resolution by April, but it is unlikely to contain a broad deficit reduction plan that can gain support from both parties. And the Senate Budget Committee might mark up a budget resolution spelling out a plan for deficit reduction, but leaders have said it will not be considered on the floor.

The most likely scenario is that a debate over the deficit will occur in a post-election, lame-duck session as lawmakers wrestle with several complicated fiscal issues.


Backers of the continuing efforts say one goal is to prepare their colleagues early for the difficult decisions ahead, in hope that the next big fight will yield a resolution.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 5, 2012 print issue of CQ Today
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