Published February 20, 2011
With Republicans faulting President Obama for failing to offer a deficit-reducing budget, some Democrats are defending the president while noting that half of the 12 elected members of Obama's doomed deficit commission are still on the job and looking for deeper cuts.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was one of 18 individuals appointed to Obama's deficit commission, which failed to reach a 14-member supermajority in December to advance recommendations for Congress to consider on reducing the debt.
Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Sunday that some of the members of the group have reconvened to take a second look at recommendations that would make deeper cuts than Obama's proposed budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
"The good news is this. There are six of us, three Democrats and three Republicans, still meeting, looking at the deficit commission as a template or as a goal in trying to find a way to work together in a bipartisan fashion in the Senate to come up with a reasonable way to deal with this deficit," Durbin told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
"We can build on the president's budget into deeper cuts but we need to put everything on the table with the exception of Social Security. ... Everything else needs be on the table," he said.
It's a difficult turn for Democrats to make even as the president's proposed budget -- which would freeze current spending levels for the next five years -- was widely panned for its failure to adequately bring down deficits.
Still, lawmakers fretting over the budget for the current fiscal year -- which is already five months gone -- agree more needs to be done for the future than what the president is suggesting.
"Frankly, no matter what budget the president laid down, it was going to be attacked," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told "Fox News Sunday." "I think he laid down some significant cuts. I think we've got a lot more work to do and I'm willing to get at the table and get it done."
"I think that the negotiations going on among the bipartisan group of six are a very good thing, and I want them to continue, and I hope they will be successful, and I think most Democrats share that view," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union."
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee and a member of the deficit panel who is still negotiating, said the president "has fallen" in his commitment to propose solutions to the causes of the nation's debt, now exceeding $14 trillion.
"The president's proposing a $1.6 trillion tax increase. He's proposing $8.7 trillion in new spending. And he's proposing to add $13 trillion to our new debt," Ryan told CBS' "Face the Nation."
"His plan locks in the high spending levels we have. His plan disavows the commission's recommendations. ... The problem is these high deficits today mean high tax increases and interest rate increases tomorrow. High deficits, uncontrolled debt, means job creation goes away today. If you actually get this deficit and debt under control, you can help jobs today," Ryan said.
Durbin said that the president's proposal lowers domestic discretionary spending to its lowest level as a percentage of GDP since President Dwight Eisenhower. But he acknowledged that it doesn't do what the deficit commission recommended.
"We said after the first two years we've got to have a 5 percent reduction in the first year and then half of the cost of living increase reduction for the next seven years. So we do achieve more through the deficit commission," he added.
But, Durbin added, the president is open to negotiation.
"After we get beyond who goes first and bragging rights about who cuts the most, the bottom line is can we reach an agreement in a bipartisan fashion with senators of both political parties and move forward," he said.
But even as the former commission members seek to work out a plan to reduce debt, target spending and increase job prospects, many lawmakers acknowledge that discretionary spending is only a small percentage of the federal government's annual obligations.
"Forty cents of every dollar we spend we borrow, and in 20 years from now, all the money we have in revenue is going to go to pay the debt -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Nothing left for the national defense, homeland security, etcetera," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who appeared with Durbin.
"We are spending money that we do not have. Even the Social Security payments, we do not have. We're borrowing that from the Treasury," said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who was on CNN with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
But Schumer said including Social Security in any deficit reduction negotiations makes it harder to deal with the immediate and dangerous problem of the deficit.
"We're not going to balance the budget on the backs of Social Security beneficiaries. It is solvent, 100 percent, until the year 2037. After that, you've got about a 25 percent gap. Yes, we need to work together to close it, but we're not going to balance the budget," he said.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, suggested instead that the revenue side of the equation get another look.
"All three of the House Republicans on the bipartisan commission voted against the commission recommendations," Van Hollen said.
"When Paul talks about the revenue components, in the president's bill, it includes efforts to shut down taxpayer subsidies to oil companies. It also says that we can no longer afford to provide the folks at the very top, the top 2 percent of Americans, with the big tax cuts. ... So that's about a trillion dollars of what Paul is talking about is the president's follow-through on the commitment to say our kids are no longer going to pay the bill for tax cuts for the folks at the very top," he added.