Centrist House Republicans say they still want Congress to fix the nation’s financial problems through a long-term grand bargain, warning its “ping-pong ball” method of propping up the economy from month to month will end in a crisis that will force even more unpleasant decisions on them.
The Republican Main Street Partnership led by former Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio called on federal lawmakers to use the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction plan — or similar bipartisan proposals — as a blueprint for broad savings, viable entitlement programs and increased revenue through tax reform.
In their view, a comprehensive plan is the only way to stave off a debt crisis, prevent massive spending cuts under a “sequester” deal and sustain programs like Medicare for the tide of Americans entering retirement.
“Nothing’s more important than getting this right,” said Mr. LaTourette, who left Congress last month after citing partisanship as the reason he did not seek another term in Washington.
Echoing the positions they put forward in a white paper released Tuesday, a trio of Main Street members said crippling partisanship and short-sighted solutions could lead to an economic crisis with little flexibility for policymakers on Capitol Hill. The longer Congress waits, they argued, the less room there will be for well-considered solutions.
“We should not have to have Armageddon to be successful,” Rep. Richard L. Hanna, New York Republican, told reporters at the Capitol Hill Club.
The Main Street group was founded by centrist and liberal-leaning Republicans in 1998 with the stated mission to “advocate for pragmatic common sense solutions to the challenges our country faces.”
On Tuesday, it praised an amendment proposed by a bipartisan quartet of House members that urges President Obama to offer a budget that balances in 10 years. The amendment is based on the recommendations of the commission chaired by former Sen. Alan K. Simpson, a Republican, and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat.
The commission’s plan succumbed to a crushing 382-38 defeat in the House last March, with just 16 Republicans and 22 Democrats voting for it.
When Rep. Charles W. Dent, Pennsylvania Republican, suggested that renewed consideration of the plan will be different this time around, Mr. LaTourette quipped, “Why, you think 38 wasn’t a big number?”
The former congressman, Mr. Dent and Mr. Hanna presented their views to reporters at the Capitol Hill Club moments before House Majority Leader Eric Cantor outlined a focus for the party beyond budgets and spending during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
Republicans may have become the “green-eyeshades” party obsessed with accounting, but fiscal tasks and non-budgetary issues must be dealt with simultaneously, according to Mr. Dent.
“One has to walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.
The partnership’s roundtable discussion also arrived shortly before Mr. Obama recommended a mix of spending cuts and tax-code changes to stave off $85 billion in sequester cuts before they take effect on March 1.
Members said they had little knowledge of Mr. Obama’s plan. But, Mr. LaTourette said, piecemeal efforts, a “meat-axe” approach or tunnel-vision on either revenue or spending cuts will not solve the nation’s problems.
“You have to have all the pieces,” he said. “You can’t cherry pick.”