- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2011

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the first concrete offer from congressional Republicans to President Obama on how to keep the federal government from defaulting on its obligations. “To get my vote to raise the debt ceiling, it would require doing something in the short term,” Mr. McConnell said he told the president at a White House meeting Thursday. The GOP leader’s plan would cap discretionary outlays below current levels to finally get the deficit under control.

Mr. McConnell insisted the short-term fix was the most important because other changes can be undone by a future Congress and president. “On the discretionary side,” he explained, “the caps that you can sort of depend on are the first couple of years.” He still endorses longer-term cuts but worries that “caps on discretionary down the road are frequently viewed as promises to do something - someday, maybe.”

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires that the president, the House and the Senate all submit budgets each year that set five-year spending targets for each appropriations committee jurisdiction. The three plans are supposed to be reconciled so that Congress can appropriate spending at set levels for specific discretionary programs.

Next year’s budget has zero chance of being reconciled by divided government. The House dislikes Mr. Obama’s budget because it failed to cut spending or make even a token attempt at entitlement reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, isn’t interested in the House Republican alternative offered by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

Mr. Ryan wants discretionary spending capped at 20 percent of the the gross domestic product. The idea is to tie spending to economic growth, thereby preventing Congress from growing the size of government at the expense of prosperity. The president wants more regulation, and a bureaucracy that will cost 25.3 percent of the GDP, according to his budget submission.

Budget bills are nonbinding congressional resolutions, but Republicans have leverage over the administration which wants a statutory increase in the debt ceiling. That’s where Mr. McConnell wants to add the two-year spending cap, forcing lower spending overall to start as soon as Oct. 1.

Even with discretionary expenditures under control, our books will remain hopelessly out of balance because of the mandatory programs put in place which are not subject to the annual debate. “We are on automatic pilot,” Mr. McConnell explained, noting that all of this year’s $2.2 trillion in tax revenue will be spent on entitlement programs and interest on the debt. The rest of the projected $1.5 trillion it will cost to fund the government will have to be borrowed, adding to the already out-of-control public debt, which exceeds $14.3 trillion.

Mr. McConnell won’t reveal the exact figures he intends to use in negotiations with the president. It’s safe to say that when Mr. McConnell and the rest of the congressional leadership are done squeezing concessions out of Mr. Obama, the president won’t be leaving the room with a grin on his face.