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Local legislators continue debate on debt limit and federal deficit days before default deadline

By Patrick Donges


Pittsfield, MA – Tuesday, while Congress took steps towards cutting the national deficit and raising the nation's debt ceiling to avoid passing the August 2 deadline for a national default, many are viewing those as steps as having been in opposing directions.

On one side, the U.S. Senate's "Gang of Six," three Democrats and three Republicans charged with negotiating a deal that could be passed through both the House and the Senate, revealed the outline for a plan which, according to reports, would cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years through tax reforms and mandates to policymakers to enact savings measures or else face serious program cuts. President Obama praised those negotiations at an afternoon briefing at the White House.

On the other, the U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday night 234-190 to approve the Republican penned "Cut, Cap, and Balance Act."

Regardless whether the measure is introduced in the Senate, Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it is approved. Republican Congressman Chris Gibson of New York's 20th district, voted for the legislation.

"'Cut, Cap and Balance' is the right way forward because it averts the crisis. It addresses the situation with regard to the default but it also, importantly, addresses the need for meaningful and significant deficit reductions."

According to Gibson, the legislation would immediately "cut" $111 billion from the 2012 federal budget, and "cap" federal spending at 19.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for up to $6 trillion in savings over the next ten years. The "balance" portion is the introduction of a constitutional amendment to require balanced federal budgeting, which Gibson explained.

"The importance here is that when we solve this problem, and we will solve this problem, future generations don't end up right back here in this very same circumstance."

While five Democrats voted for the bill: Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre and Heath Shuler, both of North Carolina, and Dan Boren of Oklahoma; those New York's delegation and beyond panned it for spending cap provisions they say would hurt those who receive benefits through Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the country's Veteran's Administration programs.

Nine Republicans voted against it, including two of the party's presidential hopefuls, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas.

In a statement released after the vote, Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of New York's 21st district, called the bill the, "Cut, Cap, and End Medicare Plan," and said that the GOP has signaled they would rather ask for concessions from the middle class rather than industry or the wealthy.

Gibson refuted those characterizations, calling claims that the plan would decimate entitlement and veterans programs, "patently untrue."

"Our bill does not cut from the Medicare, Social Security, nor the veterans programs. These programs were specifically excluded from the deficit reduction."

He continued, affirming that those programs were excluded from both the immediate cutting and the capping over time.

Democratic Rep. Bill Owens, of New York's 23rd District, said a balanced budget amendment would require severe cuts across the board, simply by the fact that departments are already running on deficits.

"There is no way you would not have to cut every program in the government. You'd have to cut virtually everything by a third, or at least significantly."

Owens added that while Medicare, Social Security and veterans programs are exempt from the caps, Medicaid is not on that list.

"Which means Medicaid is clearly going to be impacted. That is one entitlement program that definitely will be cut."

While Gibson pointed out measures in the tentative Senate proposal that he could support

"There are significant and immediate cuts; everything is on the table, including the defense budget, and I think that's important. There's meaningful tax reform."

Gibson is among several in Washington who do not believe there is enough time for the "Gang of Six" outline to be drafted into legislation before the default deadline. He said that the Democratic support in the House for "Cut, Cap, and Balance" means there is hope it will be brought up for debate in the Senate.

"If we can just get four votes in the Senate we have a chance of passing it, so I wouldn't say that this is necessarily dead on arrival. If the Senate passed what we passed last night, and the president signed it, this crisis would be over tomorrow."

Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of said both proposals would result in large cuts to entitlement programs, and would not be receiving his support.

"I intend to fight as hard as I can to make sure that at a time when the wealthiest people are becoming richer while the middle class is in many ways disappearing, we do not balance the budget the balance on the backs of Social Security recipients, Medicare, Medicaid and ordinary Americans."

Sanders said he would push for approval of the 2012 Democratic budget proposal worked on by Obama and introduced in the Senate Budget Committee, of which he is a member. He also said there is still time to reach a deal on the debt limit before the default deadline.