Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions says the fight with the Democrats over a budget deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff won't be an "all-out war," but it may be difficult to reach the kind of "rational settlement" Republicans want that includes deep spending cuts without raising taxes.
"I don't know that it's all-out war, but I do believe the Democrats have strengthened their positions and hardened their views since the election," Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren Thursday.
"Maybe that's understandable, but it looks to me like it's going to be pretty difficult to get the kind of rational settlement that will promote growth and a sound reduction of deficits that we need for our country."
Still, Sessions left open the possibility of tax increases on the wealthy being part of a deal if President Barack Obama is very specific about how the money would be used to reduce the deficit and not add new spending.
"In my view, we should not raise taxes at all until we at least know where the money is going," he said, adding: "It's . . . impossible for me to ask my constituents to send more money to Washington when they don't know where it's going to be spent."
The senator noted "whole portions of our budget," including "most of the welfare program, the Medicaid, the food stamps," that he said should also undergo "this scrutiny of cuts."
"People don't even talk about that," he said, adding that there are also many programs in government that overlap and should be reduced as well.
As an example, he pointed to what he said were 60 different job training programs currently operating under the federal government. Many of them, he suggested could be eliminated or merged to operate more efficiently and save money.
Sessions also suggested that more attention should be focused during talks between the White House and Congress on eliminating the simple waste and abuse of programs across the board, including everything from the travel of top Pentagon brass to millions wasted on government conferences and conventions.
"If we were to make government leaner and more productive, it would help growth in America," Sessions said. "That's just one thing we could do to make America more productive is to make the government more productive. It is inefficient and getting worse."
The senator said he's concerned, however, that in the rush to complete a deal by Dec. 31, there will be little time to discuss the best possible "fix for the fiscal cliff."
"We'll probably have some sort of debt agreement secretly negotiated right before Christmas, or right before December 31st, and all members of the Senate are expected to just vote for it," he said. "That is not a good way for the American people to hold their representatives accountable for the votes and responsibility of managing their money."
Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, however, sounded a bit more optimistic. He told Van Susteren Thursday that House Speaker John Boehner is setting the "right tone" going into negotiations with the president that could lead to an acceptable compromise.
Boehner has signaled since Obama's re-election that he may be open to new revenues coupled with significant spending cuts to help reduce the deficit. But he's been cautious so far in offering any specifics.
Nonetheless, Van Hollen believes that Republican leaders are willing to accept "a balance approach" to reducing the deficit. But whether that includes allowing the top rate for high income earners to return to 39 percent, which is where it was during the Bill Clinton presidency, still remains to be seen.
Van Hollen said the rate increase on the wealthy would add about $1 trillion to the treasury over 10 years. Obama has proposed new revenues of at least $1.6 trillion over the same time period.
"I think everybody who has looked at this agrees if you are serious about [bringing] a long term deficit down you have to take this balanced approach," Van Hollen said. "Because if you don't ask for anymore in the way of revenue, it does mean you are going to cut dramatically in other areas, more than just cut below the bone. Seniors on Medicare will pay more. You'll have a lot less invested in education, those kinds of things."
Van Hollen also stressed that a significant deal to head of automatic spending cuts and tax increases in January would take more than just looking for "common ground" between Democrats and Republicans.
"It's not enough to find common ground . . . What is necessary is compromise," he said. "Compromise means accepting some things you don't like to get some of the things you like. It's meeting the other side halfway.
"And that has been in short supply in the Congress, a willingness to compromise," Van Hollen continued. "It's tough because these are big issues. They are subject to lots of heated debate. That is what we have to do to get the job done. There has to be a give and take, not just 100 percent my way."
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