Content Tagged: Committee on Deficit Reduction

The End of Bipartisanship?

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March 20, 2012

Though the budget is always a contentious issue, most members of Congress thought that it was last year’s issue.  A number of Republicans want to renege on deal made months ago with Democrats, reports Steve Benen for Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC blog.

A number of conservative Republicans have expressed concern that government-spending levels still are too high despite last year’s extensive debt-limit debate.  A few weeks ago, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) met with a number of Republicans who no longer support the August agreement and urged them to reconsider their position.

Benen reports that meeting did not come to any resolution, and that the group plans to “submit a budget resolution with spending levels below the agreed-upon levels.”  Benen goes on to say that despite the fact that Democrats will reject this alternative plan, the GOP still plans to pick a fight.

A possible government shutdown is imminent, warns Benen.  When the Congressional Budget Office provides with Budget Committee with estimates for the upcoming year (expected for next week), the Committee will consider how to proceed.  Those numbers will help the Budget Committee determine how to approach both parties.

Many congressmen have expressed frustration that GOP members are considering ignoring their party’s leadership. As such, Benen quotes Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.):

If House Republicans walk away from the agreement their own Speaker made less than a year ago, then they will show that a deal with them isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on…Republicans are playing with fire here, and I urge them to not cave to their most conservative members and to stick to the budget levels we already agreed to last year.

In the Classroom

This article lends itself to a discussion on bipartisanship in Congress.  The teacher may want to structure the lesson around an examination of the Democratic Party’s ideology for government spending and taxation in comparison to that of the Republican Party.  Is there any area of the budget on which the two parties agree?

The teacher also could create a structured debate in which the students are asked to create and then compromise on a budget.  First, students should be given a chart of the general sections of the budget.  Then, the students should be split into Republicans and Democrats and then asked to spend some time creating a budget according to their party’s ideology.  Have each group present their budget to the other and then examine the differences.  Finally, ask students to attempt a compromise without straying too far from their party line.  Whether or not they reach a compromise, the struggle within the discussion to reach that point should demonstrate to students why bipartisanship is never simple and why it may isolate the extreme members of either party.


Though the Supercommittee Isn’t Back, Its Negotiations May Be

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February 28, 2012

The supercommittee may be gone, but it certainly has not been forgotten.  House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland made that point clear in his address on Capital Hill on Tuesday, reports John R. Parkinson and Carson McKinlay for ABC News.  Hoyer stated that Congress should replace the automatic spending cuts set for the end of the year with a plan similar to the one proposed by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner last summer (which failed in negotiations).

Hoyer explained that he believed the deficit posed a tremendous danger for this country, but that the current plan did not adequately address the country’s economic needs.  Referring to the automatic cuts, he explained:

Simply walking away from sequestration would be waving the white flag in the face of [the Congressional Budget Office’s] projection of a dismal fiscal future.  However, sequestration remains an irrational response.  It was the blunt instrument established to force both sides to the table to keep them there… It [the automatic spending cuts] should be replaced, but replaced only by the kind of big, balanced solution the Joint Select Committee [A.K.A. the supercommittee] was supposed to have produced.

In his speech, Hoyer went on to assert that the automatic cuts were never meant to happen.  The plan simply existed in order to force both sides to begin negotiations.  The additional fact that the cuts are not scheduled to begin until the end of the year also indicated that there still is time to agree on a new deal.  He explained that there must be a compromise between an increase in the amount of money the government collects (through taxes) and cuts in spending.

In Your Classroom

This article gives one Congressman’s opinion for what should happen next in the plans to cut the deficit.  Hoyer, as a Democrat, represents the party line, which is explored further in this article.  You may want to use the information provided in this article to create a graphic organizer with your students that examines the different stances Republicans and Democrats take on the appropriate action for Congress to cut the deficit.

Alternatively, you may use this article as a jumping-off point for a web-quest which would explore what Republican Congressmen are saying about the deficit reduction plan.  You may ask your students to see if there are: direct responses to Hoyer, similar statements made by Republican Congressmen unrelated to Hoyer’s response, and other Democratic statements.

In a discussion on this article, you may want to ask the following questions:  Why has Hoyer chosen this point in time to make an address about the deficit?  Why might he think that asking Congress to pass a plan that failed in negotiations over the summer would be reconsidered (and passed) now?


Is $1.2 Trillion Enough?

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November 4, 2011

As the deadline for the Joint Selection Committee on Deficit Reduction to reduce American governmental spending by $1.2 trillion approaches, many budget experts are hoping that the bipartisan committee tries to eliminate more than the originally proposed amount. In a recent article for CNN Money, Jeanne Sahadi states that even if the committee can meet its November 23rd deadline and plan ways of decreasing the national debt by the estimated figure stated above, the move will “barely move the needle of the country’s fiscal predicament.” In order for massive reductions in the debt to occur, experts believe that a plan to remove $4 to $6 trillion over the next ten years must be developed. Choosing to take on such a task, however, would also bring opposition from both parties due to possible increases in taxes (a concern for some Republicans) and the cutting/minimizing of governmental programs like Medicare (a concern for some Democrats).

Although a very private group, Sahadi reports “news leaked that some Democrats on the super committee put forth a $3 trillion package.” The challenges these two parties face is coming to a compromise before the automatic cuts occur. Sahadi believes that if a compromise for $1.2 trillion is reached, its influence on the overall debt will be so small that another plan will eventually need to be created to eliminate more, requiring more settlements by the groups. According to the article:

“The public would see a package of tough choices and a debt burden that continues to grow,” the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget noted in a recent report. “In essence it would deliver political pain for not so much gain.”


Teachers could use this article to discuss the challenges the super committee faces when trying to meet the goals of both parties. Students could participate in a discussion guided by the following questions: Why might some Republicans oppose tax increases and some Democrats object to cutting/minimizing governmental programs, even if these choices could reduce the national debt? How do the ideologies of these two groups play a role in the negotiations of the committee?

Teachers could ask students to take the role of the super committee and have half their students represent Republican committee members and the other half Democratic committee members as they debate the best way to reduce the debt. After the deliberations and presentations of agendas, the students could participate in a whole-class discussion about the compromises they had to make within their group and with the other party. This should help students understand the challenges the committee faces and the possible solutions they could develop when addressing the federal budget deficit and national debt.


Debates over Military Funding

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October 28, 2011

The Joint Selection Committee on Deficit Reduction to reduce government spending by 1.2 trillion dollars faces a looming deadline and conflicts over what means to achieve this goal. In a recent article by Donna Cassata for the Associated Press, both political parties are urging members of the committee to stay away from eliminating military expenditures. The government has decreased the military’s funding during the past summer and there are indications that more cuts will follow. Based on the drop in finances, House Speaker John Boehner (R) stated, “I would argue that they’ve taken more than their fair share of the hits.”

As stated in previous blogs, the committee must reach a deadline by November 23, 2011. If unmet, automatic cuts would occur and nearly half of those cuts would focus on the military. With these fears in mind, Cassata states that lawmakers are asking the super committee to look at other means so not to reduce national defense funding. Adam Smith, a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee is quoted as saying:

“If we don’t step up and confront the problem with either revenue or spending outside the defense budget, give the supercommittee somewhere to go, give people who want to control the deficit, including our bond raters, somewhere to go, inevitably defense is going to be crushed.”

The military receives a large amount of government funding (an estimated $700 billion since 9/11). Teachers could use this article to introduce a classroom discussion about the appropriate level of military spending. The lesson could be guided by the following questions:  Why has the government recently reduced military spending? What are the implications, both positive and negative, of this decision? What priority should military spending have in relation to other government programs like education, healthcare, etc.?

Students could also participate in a role-play acting as members of the super committee and the defense committee, in which they discuss the financial needs of the military. By doing so, students would develop a better understanding of the challenges the super committee faces, explore viable options they could consider, and examine the defense committee’s logic for maintaining their current level of funding.


Congress Struggling to Cut Deficit

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October 16, 2011

1.299 trillion. That number represents the 2011 fiscal year federal budget deficit.  In an earlier Understanding Fiscal Responsibility blog post, Scott Wylie wrote about ways teachers could help students conceptualize such large numbers. Members of Congress also must face that number as they determine how to reduce the country’s debt.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Janet Hook reported on Congress’ progress to make budget cuts to reduce the deficit.  Her article focuses on Congress’ most recent set of roadblocks and specifically on the committee tasked with creating this plan.

When was this committee formed, and what exactly is it meant to do?

As part of the agreement for raising the debt ceiling over the summer, this new committee, named the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, was created to draft a plan that will reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years.

Why is this committee in the news?

This past Friday, the Joint Select Committee received proposals from various other Congressional committees.  The proposals, however, focused more on what not to cut rather than what to cut, according to Hook.  She explains:

House Democrats said the panel should leave Social Security unscathed, raise taxes and avoid touching social programs.  House Armed Service Committee members warned against Pentagon cuts.  Senate Finance Committee Republicans did suggest cuts in Medicare spending, but eschewed tax increases.

Rather than providing this committee with potential areas of the budget to cut, Hook notes that each committee rushed to protect its own programs.

The committee received these proposals on the same day that the Treasury Department released its report on the 2011 fiscal year. Though government revenue rose 6.5% due to higher income-tax receipts, spending rose simultaneously due to the interest being paid on loans, Medicare, and Social Security.

Hook focuses the second half of her article on yet another challenge this committee faces.  Both Democrat and Republican leaders believe that creating jobs will help reduce the deficit and thus have pushed the committee to include job creation in its proposals.  Since President Obama’s recent jobs bill failed to pass in the Senate (due to a largely party-line vote), Republicans and Democrats alike hope to see the committee find a jobs bill on which both parties will agree.

Teachers could use this article to introduce the concept of committees in Congress, and how committees influence the legislative process.  Students could participate in a class discussion guided by the following questions:  How are committees formed?  What is the primary role of a committee in Congress? Do committees need to have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans? How might this balance (or lack thereof) shape the bill a committee proposes?  Teachers could then connect this article to an earlier lesson on lobbying, which discusses the particular committee on which this article focuses.

Teachers also could use this article as an additional resource in a discussion on the federal deficit.  The article mentions a number of proposed cuts, as well as different ways to for the government increase its revenue.  Students may be asked to express their opinion based on the options given.  Alternatively, teachers could assign groups of students (or individuals) a single proposal and ask them to research why members of Congress believe that proposal is the best way to reduce the deficit.  This small research project could culminate in student presentations or a formal debate.

Finally, students could research the partisan nature of the proposals sent to this committee.  Hook reports that, though Congressional committees submitted these proposals, the proposals seemed to represent “one party or the other.” What does each party propose the government should do to cut the deficit?  Do those ideas clearly align with certain proposals made by committees? As students answer these questions, they should be encouraged to develop their own opinions on how best to address the federal budget deficit and national debt.


Lobbying, Transparency, and the “Super Committee”

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September 7, 2011

In a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, Gail Russell Chaddock asks if the ‘super committee’ can play fair as it tries to control the national debt.  The panel must produce a plan to cut spending and recommend tax reform by November 23, to be voted on by December 23, or “trigger a $1.2 trillion package of automatic spending cuts, equally divided between defense and domestic spending.”

Chaddock points out that the twelve members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction are “outnumbered by Washington’s lobby community by nearly 1,000 to 1.”  From the article:

“Never has Washington had an all-or-nothing panel that is empowered and backed by a firm timeline like this one is,” says John Ullyot, a public-affairs consultant in Washington and former GOP Senate staffer. “The starter pistol will fire right after Labor Day.”

With everything on the table, Washington’s 12,000-member lobby community is gearing up for an all-fronts defense of hard-won tax provisions and spending priorities.

“All loopholes and priorities in this tax code are possible targets. You’ll see lobbying across the entire spectrum of items protected in the tax code,” Mr. Ullyot says.

Chaddock details the amount of money raised by the members of the super committee since the 1990 election cycle (over $592 million) and the number of their former staffers who now work for lobbying firms (over 100).  She notes that these lawmakers have received significant contributions from sectors that have much at stake in the deficit reduction talks.

Chaddock reports, “The median amount raised by the 12 lawmakers from the finance sector is $2.7 million over the past 10 years.”  The health sector, she writes, “has raised more than $24.6 million for members of the panel over 10 years, or a median of $1.4 million.”  The defense industry has “given $2.4 million to the committee members over 10 years, representing a median amount of about $122,600.”

Many public-interest groups are working to make sure the super committee is open to public scrutiny.  Chaddock reports on efforts by the Sunlight Foundation and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to preserve transparency and prevent lobby groups from having too much power in the committee’s deliberations.

Teachers could use this article to introduce the topic of Congressional lobbying in a discussion about the federal budget deficit and the national debt.  Prior to reading the article, students could discuss what they know about Congressional fundraising and how political campaigns are financed.  After reading the article, students could participate in a classroom discussion guided by the following questions:  Does it matter where members of Congress receive campaign contributions?  How might those contributions influence the decisions they make while in office?  How can we ensure that citizens’ voices are heard in these discussions?

As a follow-up activity, students could further research the figures in this article and make a graph depicting the amount of money each committee member received from the various sectors that stand to gain or lose from this debate.  When the plan is released in November, students could revisit their graphs to see if there is any correlation between the spending cuts and tax reforms recommended by the committee and the amount of money donated by interest groups.  Students could talk about what those findings indicate about the panel’s decisions and write letters to their representatives supporting or opposing the panel’s recommendations.


Democratic Senators on Deficit Reduction Committee Call for Bipartisanship

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August 19, 2011

Patty Murray, Max Baucus, and John Kerry, three Democratic members of the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, recently coauthored an article in the Wall Street Journal arguing for a bipartisan solution to the federal budget crisis.  The senators believe this is “an important moment for our country” and contend the committee must “work together to overcome the partisanship and brinksmanship of recent months and put our fiscal house in order.”  Murray, Baucus, and Kerry note that in the 1990s, Democrats and Republicans “came together to balance the budget and put us on the path to eliminating our national debt.”  From the article:

As a result of our bipartisan work back then, we helped usher in an era of unrivaled prosperity, tens of millions of new jobs, and greater wealth for American families. We did that by making tough choices and casting tough votes—including raising revenue. Some of our colleagues lost their seats because of the decisions they made. But we put our country on the right track, and American families and the world are watching closely to see if we can do it again.

Murray, Baucus, and Kerry conclude with a call for compromise.  They note that each committee member has clear ideas about the fiscal issues facing the nation, but concede “a solution can only be found by merging these priorities across party lines.”  The senators contend that they are willing to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle “to report out a balanced plan, with the shared sacrifices this moment requires.”

Teachers could use this article to introduce students to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.   The committee is comprised of twelve members of Congress, six from the House and six from the Senate, divided equally between Republicans and Democrats.  Students could research the events that led to the creation of this committee, examine the background and voting records of each committee member, and investigate the tasks with which the committee is charged.  Students could keep a weekly record of news reports about the committee and make predictions about the committee’s recommendations.  This activity will help students better understand the federal budget process and the role of compromise in fiscal policymaking.