How "Leadership" on the Budget is Becoming "Entitlement Cuts"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 15 2011 2:36 PM

How "Leadership" on the Budget is Becoming "Entitlement Cuts"

Yesterday was "Republicans deride the president's budget" Day. Today, Democrats started to get into the act. I talked briefly to Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who was grappling with concerns about how small the budget's cuts were.

"The framework that was laid out by the deficit commission, while I don't agree with everything they did, shows the direction I think we need to go in terms of scope," said Coons. "If we simply look at the 12 percent of the budget that's non-discretionary spending, we're never going to get there. I think we need to be doing the large work."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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He had been bristling to ask OMB Director Jack Lew a question.

"Why do you think 3 percent of GDP is a sustainable deficit?" asked Coons. "Don't we need to get to a balanced budget, in order to get to the point where we're tackling the debt?"

You can see the debate over the budget lurching in this direction -- toward putting more cuts on the table. Republicans are framing this as a failure of the president to go as far on entitlement reform as he seemed to promise he would in the State of the Union. They are backed up by -- my estimate -- eighteen billion editorials criticizing the president on that point.

"We're waiting for presidential leadership," said Mitch McConnell today.

One thing missing from the discussion seems to be tax hikes. There are two things, generally, proposed by the deficit commission but seen as politically impossible. They are entitlement cuts and tax hikes. The president's budget does hike taxes. Why, I asked Sen. John Thune, R-SD, are Republicans not coming to the table on tax hikes as they ask Democrats to meet them on entitlement cuts?

"My view on that is that you've got to start where the problem is, and it's a spending issue," said Thune. "The rapid run-up in spending is why we've got the problem we do. Are there Republicans who would work with the president on tax reform? Absolutely. I don't think there are going to be Republicans that are going to be out there in favor of tax increases that he might propose, but if he wants to propose tax reform, I think Republicans are anxious to work on that, because that's a competitiveness ussue."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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