President Obama and Congress are setting up another can to be kicked down the road.
Having missed more than one deadline already on a broad deficit reduction plan, President Obama has called on Congress to pass a small package of spending cuts and tax revenue increases as a short-term measure to delay automatic spending cuts that were slated to take effect Jan. 1 but put off until March 1.
Across-the-board spending cuts of more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years evenly divided between defense and domestic programs were set to begin Jan. 1, because Congress in late 2011 could not agree on a deficit reduction plan then. However, the January sequester deadline coincided with the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts that would have hit Americans.
As economists warned about the possibility of another recession from the combination of cuts and higher taxes, President Obama and Republicans in Congress went down to the wire before agreeing on a compromise that preserved middle-class tax cuts but raised taxes on Americans earning more than $400,000. The last-minute deal put off the the scheduled budget reductions for two months.
Now that might slip, too, with similar concern that $85 billion in cuts this year could slow down the economic recovery. The Pentagon has warned that the drastic reduction would hollow out the military and lead to layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes affecting more than 800,000 civilian employees. The reductions were meant to be harsh to prod Congress into doing something.
With his call for targeted short-term cuts, President Obama supported modest reforms in our social-insurance programs accompanied by tax reform, so that the wealthiest individuals and corporations cant take advantage of loopholes and deductions that arent available to most Americans. Republicans, however, balk at raising revenue or increasing taxes, which they see as only leading to more spending rather than less.
The president needs a new game plan other than asking Americans to dig deep and hand over more tax dollars. Our nations problem is spending, not taxing, said GOP Sen. Dan Coats.
In the meantime, the country hit its debt ceiling of $16.4 trillion on Dec. 31. Once again far apart on an agreement, President Obama and congressional Republicans averted a government default by allowing the Treasury to continue borrowing above the debt limit through May 18, when the debate will resume.
Next in line is the March 27 deadline, when the stopgap measure funding most government agencies expires, followed by April 15, when the Senate and House should produce budgets. The House has done so for the past two years. The Democratic-controlled Senate hasnt passed a budget in three years, although Democratic leaders insist they are really going to do it this year.
Returning to the deficit-reduction package, Republicans and Democrats in both chambers are seeking short-term solutions that will put that confrontation off, possibly until after they take up the debt ceiling in May. This nonsense has to stop.
Adding to the urgency of a final decision was the latest report that the economy contracted in the last quarter of 2012 and could be impacted by looming reductions in federal spending.
Congress has to agree on a long-range plan that will address the debt ceiling and deficit reduction together.