WASHINGTON -- A brief reprieve on imminent budget deadlines is providing
Republicans and Democrats alike an opportunity to regroup for the next fiscal
debate that will dominate the spring and come to a head this summer: increasing
the nation's ability to borrow money to pay its bills.
Negotiations to raise the debt ceiling are increasingly linked to an ongoing debate over how to revamp the nation's social safety net to help reduce the deficit.
"The notion that it's somehow irresponsible to have a discussion about the debt when you're being asked to raise the debt ceiling is completely wrong," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in late March, citing warnings from Medicare and Social Security trustees about the long-term sustainability of the social programs. "The time to act is now."
President Obama's decision to include certain Social Security and Medicare changes in his budget headed to Capitol Hill this week will reinvigorate a debate congressional Republicans are eager to have. White House officials said Friday that the budget will include a proposal to use a stingier method of calculating Social Security benefits as well as reductions in Medicare spending, mainly by cutting health care provider payments.
Republicans want to save money in Social Security and Medicare programs without raising any taxes. Obama is open to certain entitlement changes if revenue is part of a deal. Many congressional Democrats are wary of any entitlement changes that Republicans support.
Obama's budget reflects earlier concessions made in negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, but those negotiations stalled late last year. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday that the president's budget is a goodwill gesture intended to restart talks with Republicans.
"This is not the president's ideal budget proposal. It is a budget proposal that represents a good-faith compromise position that reflects the offer he made to the speaker of the House that was widely seen as a compromise," Carney said.
Obama has stepped up his engagement with lawmakers recently as part of that effort. He is scheduled to have dinner with a group of GOP senators the same day his budget is formally released.
The debt ceiling vote is the next fiscal deadline that will force Washington to act and the most likely vehicle for a compromise on the horizon.
Congress returns this week from a two-week recess. As the Democratic-controlled Senate focuses on gun and immigration legislation, House Republicans are continuing to build their case for trimming Medicare and Social Security in exchange for their votes to raise the debt ceiling.
Defaulting on the U.S. debt is unprecedented and threatens to rattle the global economy. Boehner tamped down suggestions that House Republicans would allow a default, saying before the break: "Remember, our goal here isn't to default on our debts, not to shut down our government. Our goal here is to get this country on a path to balance its budget over the next 10 years."
"The time to act is now," Sen. Mitch McConnell says regarding the long-term sustainability of social programs.
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