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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bring it on: Simpson and Bowles to Offer Up Deficit Fix . The new $2.4 trillion Simpson-Bowles proposal would identify $600 billion in spending reductions through changes to health-care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. That is roughly $200 billion more than the White House has said it is willing to accept.


From The Wall Street Journal:

Deficit hawks Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles on Tuesday will propose a detailed plan for rewriting the tax code and implementing deep new spending cuts, hoping to offer a path to compromise for Democrats and Republicans, according to an outline of the plan.

Messrs. Simpson and Bowles co-chaired the White House's 2010 deficit-reduction panel, which put together a bipartisan package of tax and spending changes that fell flat after the administration and congressional leaders took a look.

They will try once again on Tuesday, at a time when Washington budget talks have entered a particularly frosty period. Republicans and Democrats say they want to reduce the federal budget deficit but are far apart on how and by how much.

Many lawmakers left Washington late last week for recess this week, having made little progress in talks to avert roughly $85 billion in federal spending cuts scheduled to begin March 1. These cuts will run through September unless Congress intervenes, something many analysts believe is becoming less likely each day.

Mr. Simpson, a Republican, and Mr. Bowles, a Democrat, say their new proposal would reduce the federal budget deficit by $2.4 trillion over 10 years, more than the $1.5 trillion package that White House officials have said is their goal. Obama administration officials say any deficit-reduction package must include new tax revenue as well as spending cuts.

House GOP leaders have not yet detailed the size of the deficit-reduction package they will propose, but they have said it would balance the budget within 10 years, which would put it in the $4 trillion range. They have said, though, that it won't include any tax increases.

The new $2.4 trillion Simpson-Bowles proposal would identify $600 billion in spending reductions through changes to health-care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. That is roughly $200 billion more than the White House has said it is willing to accept.

The health-care component is perhaps the most detailed of any part of the package, according to a description, calling for "improving provider and beneficiary incentives throughout the health care system, reducing provider payments, reforming cost-sharing, increasing premiums for higher earners, adjusting benefits to account for population aging, reducing drug costs, and getting better value for our health care dollars."

Another $600 billion in deficit-reduction would come from curbing or ending a number of tax breaks. This is about in line with the level of increased revenue White House officials have said they are seeking, but most Republicans have said they won't accept any tax increases as part of a deficit-reduction package.

The final $1.2 trillion in the proposal would come from lower caps on discretionary spending—the type Congress approves annually—changing the way cost-of-living increases are calculated for Social Security checks and other government benefits, cuts to farm subsidies, and changes to military and civilian retirement programs, among other things.

The package marks at least the fourth effort by Messrs. Simpson and Bowles in the past three years to galvanize public and political backing for a deficit-reduction deal. It follows their late 2012 attempt to broker a large-scale agreement between the White House and congressional leaders during the talks over avoiding the so-called "fiscal cliff."

Messrs. Bowles and Simpson helped assemble a large group of chief executives to prod Washington to act, but that effort gained little traction as political leaders dug in and many CEOs threw up their hands. In the past, their pitches have proven more popular with rank-and-file members looking to support a bipartisan plan than with congressional leaders who were locked in negotiations.

The Simpson-Bowles proposal says political leaders should strive to push the ratio of federal debt as a percentage of gross domestic product to less than 70% over 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office earlier this month said this ratio is likely to be 77% by 2023 if no further actions are taken. This is historically very high and could lead to high interest payments for the U.S. government, among other things, particularly when interest rates rise.

The spending cuts set to begin March 1 resulted from the 2011 agreement that raised the federal borrowing limit. They would reduce spending in areas including defense, housing, education and transportation. They represent just a small slice of the government's annual budget, which exceeds $3.5 trillion, but big-ticket programs like Social Security and Medicare benefits are immune from the cuts.

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