Lawmakers need to focus on achievable goals and not the next "grand bargain" when it comes to upcoming budget talks, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan says.
The Wisconsin Republican told Politico
that if lawmakers "spend our time talking about a grand bargain, we will fall short, because that will require each party to insist on the other compromising its core principles. And in this divided government, we're not going to do that."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also is dismissing speculation of a so-called "grand bargain," telling Nevada radio station KNPR
that such speculation is "happy talk," and he'd rather the focus be on fixing sequestration by making specific cuts rather than across-the-board cuts.
Ryan told The Wall Street Journal
Thursday that the 29 House and Senate lawmakers on a new budget conference committee should be trying to identify "smart" reductions to replace sequester cuts. The House-Senate budget talks are to begin Oct. 30, and conference negotiators have until Dec. 13 to report back to Congress.
Reid, though, told KNPR that that cuts already made account for more than half the $4 trillion in reductions sought by the Simpson-Bowles Commission
. Immigration reform, if passed in the House, would reduce the deficit by another $1 trillion.
Sequestration's automatic cuts in March have brought discretionary spending down to around $986.7 billion, Politico reports, and another round will cut an additional $20 billion, mostly from the Defense Department.
Ryan said he believes "there are smarter ways of cutting spending than the across-the-board approach."
However, while Ryan and other Republicans want to build the nation's revenues by economic growth, Reid insisted that Democrats will be willing to bargain more on spending if Republicans re-think their attitude on taxes.
"The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," Reid told KNPR. "The rich know that. The rich are willing to pay more,” he said, arguing that increased taxes will have to be part of any deal.
For his part, Ryan told The Wall Street Journal that his party will not agree to raise taxes, and if Democrats see the conference talks "as an excuse to raise taxes, I don't think it will be successful. I think they know that."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Democrat Patty Murray of Washington has said that she will replace sequester cuts only with a package eliminating some tax loopholes while reducing spending.
But while Murray's budget proposal calls for tax increases while cutting spending on farm, military, and health programs, Ryan's keeps post-sequester spending levels and reduces other spending to offset a boost for military programs.
Neither proposal is likely to come without a congressional fight. On Wednesday, 30 House Republicans sent Reid and Murray a letter calling on them to cancel defense cuts, saying that if the cuts aren't stopped, it will reduce 100,000 "soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen from our armed forces."
There are things both parties can agree on, Ryan insisted.
"We should keep our focus on that and do something that is achievable,” he said. “In this climate we are in, that would be pretty big just to show that we can do something.”
Ryan said he is encouraged by the "productive working relationship" between House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R- Mich, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., the two top tax writers.
“We should encourage them to produce a pro-growth tax reform, which grows the economy and that grows revenues through economic growth," said Ryan. "We should encourage that process to continue.”
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