Hazleton Standard Speaker
Three Republicans who represent Northeastern Pennsylvania in Congress say they would favor increasing the federal debt limit if President Obama agrees to specific, binding red ink-reducing measures that include a constitutional balanced budget amendment.
At the moment, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, and Tom Marino, R-10, Lycoming Twp., all favor Republican plans to cut spending next year by a set amount and cap future spending and an amendment requiring a balanced federal budget before raising the debt limit.
Toomey and Barletta signaled a willingness to compromise further, but they and Marino want a detailed presidential plan to get the budget balanced first.
“It’s a big discussion about what gets cut, when it gets cut, how quickly we get there,” Toomey said. “But I just think we can’t continue with business as usual.”
Toomey and Barletta said raising taxes would further damage the still slumping economy, though Obama insists cuts alone cannot balance the budget.
Obama administration officials say the debt limit must be raised by Aug. 2 from the present $14.3 trillion or the country risks defaulting on its debts.
But Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, opposes the Republican plan because it risks hurting the nation’s most vulnerable citizens by forcing cuts when congressional negotiators fall short. Casey said he’s confident a bipartisan agreement between House and Senate leaders will happen in the next few days. The agreement would raise the debt limit, but leave budget balancing and spending cuts to a congressional panel over the next few months, he said.
“We don’t know exactly what it will be, but it’s likely to be much closer” to what Senate leaders Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., are proposing. They propose having the president ask for three debt limit hikes totaling $2.5 trillion by the end of next year and recommend spending cuts greater than that. The cuts would not have to be enacted for the limit to rise.
“It will at least give the American people and markets â¦ the confidence that we pay our bills,” Casey said. “But what that will also mean is we’ve got a heck of a lot of work after that to complete work on deficit reduction.”
Barletta and Toomey said they oppose the McConnell-Reid proposal because the cuts are not binding.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer has described the Republican “cut, cap and balance” plan as “extreme, radical and unprecedented.”
Barletta said at least he and other Republicans voted for specific plans – a Republican budget authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., several months ago and the “cut, cap and balance” bill Tuesday.
“Only in Washington would a balanced budget amendment make people freak out,” Barletta said.
Democrats decry the Ryan budget for its cuts to Medicare, and few believe the Democratic-controlled Senate will pass “cut, cap and balance,” considering Obama has said he would veto it.
Careful to avoid saying he favors raising taxes, Casey said it is clear federal spending is a far higher percentage of gross domestic product than federal tax revenues, meaning the nation needs more revenues. He also said tax code reform that closes loopholes could produce $1 trillion in new taxes alone.
Efforts to reach Marino were unsuccessful, but he voted for the Ryan budget and the “cut, cap and balance” bill.
“This is what the American people want. They want us to cut spending and cap our expenditures, just like they are forced to do on a daily basis,” he said in a statement.