- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The all-but-certain rejection of a pair of balanced-budget amendments in the Senate on Wednesday will mean that every portion of Congress‘ to-do list from the ballyhooed debt deal that created the ill-fated budget supercommittee will fail to advance on Capitol Hill.

And with lawmakers from both parties eager to alter or undo the automatic spending cuts set to begin in early 2013, the deficit-reduction road map drafted as part of this summer’s hard-fought debt-limit compromise likely won’t be used.

A Republican balanced-budget plan would require Congress to balance the federal budget each year, cap spending at 18 percent of the gross domestic product, require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to increase taxes and require a three-fifths majority vote in both chambers to raise the debt limit.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, the measure’s sponsor, has called the proposal a historic opportunity to lower the nation’s $15 trillion debt.

“With spending at historic highs and going higher, and with interest on the debt taking up a larger and larger share of spending, we need to be very concerned as a nation that we are entering a debt spiral from which we will have a difficult time extricating ourselves,” Mr. Hatch said on Tuesday.

He added that if the balanced-budget amendment was ratified by the states, “the government-funded gravy train would come to an end.”

A Democratic version crafted by Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado also would require an annually balanced federal budget. Included is a plan for a Social Security “lock box” that would protect the revenue and outlays of Social Security from any balanced-budget requirement.

Mr. Udall’s plan also would prohibit Congress from providing income-tax breaks for those earning more than $1 million a year if the federal government is running a deficit.

“This is one tool that would help us make tough choices while still allowing our country to prosper,” he said.

The Obama administration and Republicans also are beginning to squabble over the terms of the discretionary spending caps for the next 10 years that they agreed to in the debt-limit compromise.

The White House on Tuesday accused the GOP of breaking the deal by trying to freeze federal employees’ salaries — which the administration says would drop discretionary spending below the caps the debt deal set.

The bill “breaks the bipartisan agreement on spending cuts that was reached just a few months ago and would inevitably lead to pressure to cut investments in areas like education and clean energy,” the statement said.

But Republicans called the White House accusations nonsense, saying caps are always meant to be ceilings on spending, not floors. They said Congress always can cut below the level of a cap.

The August debt deal already has imposed more than $900 billion in discretionary spending limits for the next decade. But the failure of the deficit-reduction supercommittee — another component of the compromise — to identify by Thanksgiving an additional $1.5 trillion budget cuts now triggers $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts to begin in January 2013. About half of those cuts would target the Pentagon, which lawmakers on both sides worry would compromise national security.

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