While Senators and congressional leaders most often get invites to the Sunday morning talk shows, this week, freshmen Republicans had an opportunity to share their point of view.
Plans to vote on a “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill on Tuesday in the House was the main topic. The bill would cut fiscal year 2012 spending by $111 billion, cap future spending at 18 percent of GDP, and propose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
There appear to be two separate paths to raise the debt ceiling moving forward, “Cut, Cap, and Balance” in the House, and the McConnell/Reid plan in the Senate being negotiated by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The McConnell/Reid plan would cut spending by about the same amount as the House bill, give the president authority to raise the debt ceiling enough to last past the 2012 elections, and set up a bipartisan deficit committee that would craft a bill to reduce future deficits, which Congress would vote on at a set date.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), both freshmen members of the Tea Party Caucus, appeared on separate talk shows Sunday. Both men clearly stated that they would not vote in favor of the McConnell/Reid plan.
The McConnell plan “does not have 218 Republican votes,” Jordan said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is just kicking the can down the road.”
On “This Week,” Labrador said that he would not vote for a debt ceiling increase without “long-term systemic changes to the way things are done in Washington.”
Freshmen Republicans, those elected in the Tea Party-influenced 2010 elections that swept Republicans into power in the House, appear frustrated that they seem to be unable to do what they feel they were elected to do – cut spending and reduce the size of the federal government.
The House passed a bill in April that would cut spending and reduce the growth of government, but the Democratic-controlled Senate has not passed any budget of their own, or voted on President Obama's budget released in February, which would increase budget deficits over current levels.
Obama now wants a “big deal,” a $4 trillion deficit reduction package over the next 10 years to go along with a debt ceiling increase. The plan would cut spending by $3 trillion and increase revenue by $1 trillion, mostly by eliminating tax deductions. Tax rates would not increase.
Republicans were asked why they would not accept this “grand bargain” as part of a compromise to raise the debt ceiling.
One difficulty some Republicans have with the plan is that the spending cuts would take place too far in the future while tax increases are due to go into effect soon, with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act.
Since any future Congress can change the plans of any previous Congress, there is no guarantee that Obama's proposed spending cuts will ever go into effect.
“Here's the president's problem,” Jordan said. “First, all the spending cuts take place in the out years. He never gives us any detail about what's going to happen in the first year which is the only year that counts because that's the only year that we can make law about. So, all the spending cuts are in the out years, the tax increases are going to come soon. This is the old cliché, this is Lucy and Charlie Brown with the football.”
Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) made a similar point.
When “This Week” host Christiane Amanpour told Kyl, “Your position has actually moved the president towards your position on spending cuts,” Kyl said, “I wish I could say that was true.” He then reminded Amanpour about Obama's Friday press conference when ABC News White House Correspondent Jake Tapper asked him to name “one, just one” specific Medicare reform and Obama refused to do so.
“We've identified over $100 billion a year in savings just from Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment compensation over payment. This isn't hurting anyone who's entitled to it. These are payments that shouldn't be made, and yet, all the president would say is he was willing to 'look at' unspecified reforms,” said Kyl.
From the Republicans’ perspective, a commitment to “look at” a reform is not the same as committing to implement a reform. “That's the problem. Republicans are not willing to make a deal based upon some vague commitment that sometime in the future the president might be willing to 'look at' something that he won't identify,” said Kyl.
Republicans feel that they are the ones who have been fiscally responsible by putting forward, and voting on, a plan for deficit reduction. Yet, Obama has been characterized, by himself and some in the press, as the “adult in the room” for calling for compromise and a “balanced approach.” This is a backhanded way of saying that the House Republicans are behaving like children.
Conservative commentator George Will described the Republicans’ position on “This Week.”
“Let's go back: for four months, the president was clear and emphatic on what he wanted, a clean lifting of the [debt] ceiling, which is to say no restraint on the spending merry-go-round. Now he suddenly wants four trillion dollars in deficit reduction. What he would do, though, in getting that, is have the Republicans sign on to tax increases, which would demoralize the Republican base and fracture the party, and enable him to run again as a born-again deficit reducer.”
One of the problems Democrats have with the proposed balanced budget amendment is that it requires a supermajority, two-thirds vote to increase taxes, but a simple majority to cut spending, making it more likely that budgets would be balanced by spending cuts rather than tax increases.
“It would be easier to cut Medicare than it would be to cut subsidies for oil and gas companies,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“You have a majority vote to cut Medicare, you have a majority vote to create special interest loopholes, you need two-thirds vote to close tax breaks. That's an anti-majoritarian provision. The Framers would be turning in their graves if they read their provision.”
While “cut, cap, and balance” will likely pass the House on Tuesday, it does not have much chance of passing the Senate, especially with a supermajority requirement to increase taxes in the balanced budget amendment. This will likely frustrate House freshmen and Tea Party supporters like Jordan and Labrador who feel that they were elected to make big changes in Washington.
Will described their situation well: “The Tea Party Movement, which I happen to think is the best thing to happen in American politics since the Goldwater insurgency, the problem is the Tea Party Movement doesn't understand a fundamental paradox, which is, if Washington were as easy to turn around as they seem to think it is, we wouldn't need the Tea Party Movement, which we do.”
The U.S. national debt is currently over $14.5 trillion with over $114.7 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said that the debt ceiling needs to be raised by August 2 to avoid default.