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Continued: Minnesotans in Congress battle Obama over budget

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 10, 2013 - 5:46 AM

“It’s very misleading to say the program is not contributing to the debt, because it is,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a Washington group dedicated to balancing the federal budget. “The Treasury has to come up with the money to make good on the bonds, which is a draw on general revenues.”

Early speculation about the Obama budget has focused on slowing the growth of Social Security benefits and reducing Medicare costs by cutting payments to health care providers and drug companies. But to make any changes, Obama would need some Democratic support, assuming he could make a deal with Republicans on new tax revenue.

Both are far from certain.

“If you want to set up a boogeyman against your [political] opponent, it’s very tempting to talk about how somebody’s going to take away Social Security or slash Medicare,” Bixby said. “ ‘Throw grandma in the street.’ It’s preying on the fears of the elderly, rather than solving a problem.”

Sizing up need for change

Franken acknowledges that changes are needed to keep Social Security solvent but says that reducing the cost-of-living index is not the way to go about it. “I don’t think the place to start is with a piecemeal proposal that disproportionately affects our oldest and most vulnerable seniors,” he said, “and I will fight against benefits cuts.”

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was more elusive: “I would have to see the specific proposal and what protections are included [in the budget], such as protections for older retirees and the nation’s most vulnerable.”

In the past, Klobuchar and Franken have said they would consider reforms such as raising the retirement age for future Social Security beneficiaries. They also have voiced openness to raising the cap on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax, now set at $113,700.

On Medicare, the Minnesota senators say savings could be achieved by allowing the government to negotiate drug prices and enact national reforms based on the Minnesota model of high-quality, low-cost care.

The Senate Democratic budget reform proposals stand in stark contrast to the House-passed GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, turn Medicaid into a state block-grant program and provide seniors with Medicare “premium support” vouchers to buy private insurance. In contrast to a Senate-passed budget plan, the GOP, with the support of all three Minnesota Republicans in the House, uniformly opposes increasing taxes on anybody. That, for the foreseeable future, leaves entitlement reform in limbo.

 

Kevin Diaz • kdiaz@startribune.com

 

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  • Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., spoke Tuesday to protesters rallying outside the White House against President Obama’s budget proposal.

  • Obama proposal

    The plan: President Obama’s 2014 budget proposes spending cuts and revenue increases that would result in $1.8 trillion in deficit reductions over 10 years. That figure would replace $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that are poised to take effect over the next 10 years, thus delivering a net increase in deficit reduction of $600 billion.

    Deficit reduction: Counting reductions and higher taxes that Congress and Obama have approved since 2011, the 2014 budget would contribute to $4.3 trillion in total deficit reduction by 2023.

    Entitlements: A key feature is a revised inflation adjustment called “chained CPI.” This new formula would effectively curb annual increases in a broad swath of government programs but would have its biggest impact on Social Security. His proposed changes would mean a cut in Social Security benefits of nearly $1,000 a year for an average 85-year-old, smaller cuts for younger retirees.

    Tax revenue: It calls for additional tax revenue, primarily by placing a 28 percent cap on deductions and other tax exclusions. That plan would affect wealthy taxpayers as would a new administration proposal to place limits on tax-preferred retirement accounts for millionaires and billionaires.

    Senate Democrats

    The plan: Senate Democrats propose raising nearly $1 trillion in new taxes and cutting $1 trillion from projected spending. The plan would add $5.2 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years, about $1.8 trillion less than currently projected.

    Deficit reduction: Senate budget chief Patty Murray estimates it would reduce deficits by a total of $1.85 trillion over 10 years, putting the deficit at $566 billion in 2023. About $960 billion of that is intended to replace the automatic cuts that went into effect on March 1.

    Entitlements and spending: Most Democrats reject cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. Their plan seeks to reduce projected spending by an estimated $975 billion — $493 billion in domestic spending; $240 billion in defense spending; and $242 billion in interest savings. Overall, it would increase spending by 4.7 percent a year. It would include a $100 billion stimulus for road and bridge repairs, as well as worker training.

    Taxes: It would increase revenue by $975 billion through eliminating and curtailing tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. The plan would end aggressive offshore tax planning, special depreciation rules for corporate jet owners and favorable tax rates for hedge fund managers.

    House Republicans

    The plan: House Republicans would slice $4.6 trillion over 10 years from projected spending, largely by repealing President Obama’s health-care law and cutting Medicaid.

    Deficit reduction: Aided by additional revenue from the year-end fiscal cliff deal, the plan — written by Rep. Paul Ryan — would balance the budget, producing a small surplus by 2023.

    Entitlements: The centerpiece of the GOP plan would be to cut Medicaid $757 billion by converting the program into a voucher-like program for the next generation of seniors, those younger than 55. When they become eligible, at age 65, those seniors will be offered a voucher that can be applied either to the purchase of private health insurance or toward the cost of Medicare, though the voucher may not cover all the costs of the policy. It exempts the Pentagon and Social Security beneficiaries from cuts.

    No tax increases: It would add no additional tax revenue and reduce spending by $5 trillion over a decade relative to projections from the Congressional Budget Office. As a result, by 2023, Ryan estimates there would be no deficit at all. But he assumes one very unlikely scenario — the repeal of major parts of health reform, from which Ryan counts nearly $2 trillion for deficit reduction.

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    Obama’s budget

    • The plan: The president’s 2014 budget proposes $25 billion in spending cuts, along with revenue increases, for $1.8 trillion in deficit reductions over 10 years.

    • Entitlements: A revised inflation adjustment called “chained CPI” would mean a cut in Social Security benefits.

    • Deficit reduction: Counting reductions and higher taxes now in place, $4.3 trillion in total deficit reduction by 2023.

    • Tax revenue: Increases mainly from wealthy taxpayers and 28 percent cap on deductions and other tax exclusions.

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