Don’t Start the Party Yet

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Clearly, members of the tone-deaf House Republican leadership got their ears unblocked by constituents during Congress’s Easter Recess. The evidence: Both Finance Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), previously self-appointed experts on what “The American People” want, discovered that said people are not nearly as enthusiastic over Ryan’s never-to-be-considered-in-the-Senate-much-less-enacted, fiscal 2012 budget plan as top Republicans claimed them to be.

Republicans continue to insist that reining in Social Security and Medicare are essential in achieving long-term control over the nation’s budget deficits and, hence, the national debt. Most Democrats and prominent economists beg to differ. It remains to be seen whether President Obama, flush with success and new respect for having overseen the killing of Osama bin Ladin, the man held singly responsible for the 9/11/2001 attack on the US, will once again engage in preemptive negotiation, yielding points to the Republicans before negotiations even begin.  Perhaps not this time. We can dare to hope he’s found his mojo.

Cantor admitted yesterday that many of his colleagues recognize they’re not going to achieve consensus on Ryan’s proposal to privatize Medicare, in effect sawing off the legislative limb on which Ryan and all but four of his Republican colleagues climbed out before the Easter vacation.

Now GOP leaders Cantor and Ryan (House Speaker John Boehner has been uncommonly quiet these past weeks) seem resigned to putting off decisions on Medicare, Medicaid, and tax increases for the rich until after the 2012 elections. One Republican said the party is willing to seek a mandate for GOP-style fiscal remedies in the next election, and “let the next president decide.” For now, the GOP is suggesting that negotiations start with ideas both parties seem to agree on, such as cutting subsidies to corporate farms.

Ryan, speaking from his perch out on that limb, told reporters Wednesday,

We’re not going to get a grand slam agreement. We’re not going to get a big, comprehensive agreement, because of the political parameters. My hope at this moment is to get a single or a double.

But the time to celebrate is a long way off. When Ryan outlines the options he hopes Democrats will agree to, things begin to look a bit less like a Republican loss and a bit more like yet another Democratic sellout. Word is that Democrats are already signalling their willingness to consider

• Cuts or mandated limits on government spending programs that must be approved each year, such as for defense programs and regulatory agencies. This type of expense accounts for 39% of current federal spending.

• Cuts or limits on so-called mandatory spending, such expenses for farm subsidies, food stamps, federal employee retirement, student loans and housing subsidies that don’t require yearly appropriations. Mr. Ryan suggested a deal could exclude, for now, the biggest of these expenses: Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs and Social Security.

• Targets that would aim to bring the deficit below 3% of gross domestic product by 2015, a goal that would require more spending cuts or tax increases than the legislated cuts would achieve.

• To enforce the targets, automatic and credible spending cuts would be required if the Congressional Budget Office says policies in place won’t meet those goals; the administration wants both automatic spending cuts and tax increases.

These points are part of a bill filed in the Senate by Republican Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Democrat Clare McCaskill (Mo.). Both are up for re-election in 2012.

And here’s what Robert Reich, prominent economist and President Bill Clinton’s secretary of labor, has to say about that:

None of this is going to be decided in the next couple of weeks.  Congress is taking another vacation later in May. Democrats and interested Independents have their chance then to let their representatives in Congress know what they think about this proposal. Then maybe it will be time to break out the booze.

Learn more:

Why Does Senator McCaskill Want to Bankrupt Our Children?

Republicans Attack Social Security, Medicare. Voters Bite Back

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