The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

December 16, 2013

Budget deal may signal era of tiny achievements

(Continued)

Former Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo., said the budget deal is better than nothing. But “it’s a sparrow belch in the midst of a typhoon” that represents long-term fiscal challenges, he said.

Simpson co-wrote a major deficit-reduction plan that Obama commissioned, and then largely ignored, and he remains active in the debate.

The budget bill “is progress, and we don’t object to that,” Simpson said in an interview. “But if you don’t deal with the cost of health care, and you don’t deal with the solvency of Social Security for 75 years, you are failing your country.”

That applies to Congress and the president, Simpson said.

The trust fund that supports Social Security is projected to run out of money in 2033. At that point, the retirement and disability program would collect only enough in payroll taxes to pay about 75 percent of benefits.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid consume 44 percent of federal spending, and they are growing. Far from addressing those popular, tough-to-curtail programs, lawmakers and outside groups are proving how hard it is to achieve even tiny compromises such as the budget deal awaiting Senate action.

Many of the House’s most conservative and most liberal members opposed the bill. Tea party groups and others on the right are calling Republicans who back it traitors to conservatism. Liberals say the bill short-changes the unemployed.

Nonetheless, the measure drew a hefty majority in the House. That pattern of support from the middle will be harder to win for more ambitious bills that would raise taxes or make meaningful changes to Social Security and Medicare.

Praise for the budget deal shows “just how low the aspirations have become around here,” said Rep. David Price, D-N.C., a former Duke University political science professor who has spent 25 years in the House. “We have to get back to budget deals on the scale of the 1990s, the ones that actually balanced the budget.”

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