WASHINGTON — When it comes to budgets, balance is in the eye of the congressional beholder.
To House Republicans, it means a balanced budget in a decade, achieved by $4.6 trillion in spending cuts and without any tax increases.
To Senate Democrats, it means a balanced plan, about $975 billion in higher taxes and a spending reduction of about $875 billion, not counting cancellation of $1.2 trillion in existing across-the-board-cuts.
That makes the two plans polar opposites as President Barack Obama and the two political parties begin maneuvering toward yet another round of deficit-reduction negotiations.
“Ultimately the key to this lock is in their (Republican) hands and they’ve got to decide if they want to turn it, and that means taking a balanced approach,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who is his party’s chief budget strategist in the House.
Across the Capitol, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky offered a rebuttal.
He said that under the plan Democrats favor, “We won’t get more jobs or a better economy or sensible reforms to prevent Medicare or Social Security from going bankrupt. And we certainly won’t get a balanced budget.”
Even with the deep differences between the two parties, there’s plenty of time before the next make-or-break moment in divided-government’s pursuit of lower deficits.
That won’t come until late July, when Obama probably will be forced to ask Congress for an increase in borrowing authority so the Treasury can finance the nation’s $16 trillion national debt. Republicans have said they will use the request as leverage to gain concessions on spending cuts in Medicare and other benefit programs.
“Going back to the 1950s, debt ceiling requests of presidents have been used to bring about major changes, Gramm-Rudman, the Congressional Review Act, the 1997 Clinton-Republican Congress deficit reduction package, the Budget Control Act,” McConnell said, summoning the ghosts of budget compromises past.