TribLIVE

| Home

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Nonpartisan group urges creation of U.S. budget panel

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009
 

If Congress wants to save the country from financial calamity, it might have to take itself out of the picture, warns a Washington policy group.

Ballooning deficits, driven by health care and entitlement costs, threaten to overwhelm the budget during the next 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Unless spending habits change, the United States will have to borrow money to pay the interest on its debt, said John Boyer, the center's director of congressional relations.

"If we continue on this trajectory, we're going to get into this, and we're not going to be able to get our way out," Boyer said during a meeting Tuesday with Tribune-Review reporters and editors. "We're at the end of that road."

The Congressional Budget Office warned in July that interest on the federal debt will more than double by 2010, from 1 percent of gross domestic product to 2.5 percent.

The needed changes — including cuts to entitlement programs, restructuring the tax system and raising taxes — are so politically unpopular that Congress is incapable of making them, said Dana Martin, the center's chief of staff.

He and Boyer urged the creation of a commission that would spend two years studying federal spending, holding town hall meetings and crafting a massive government overhaul. The commission would present its final plan to Congress for an up-or-down vote, similar to the way Congress decides which military bases to close.

That would shield members from the political fallout of individual program cuts, Martin said. Bills to create this commission have been introduced in the Senate and House, but met stiff opposition from legislative leaders wary about ceding power, he said.

The House bill, introduced by Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper, is backed by a bipartisan group of 75 co-sponsors, including four from Pennsylvania.

"Congress has demonstrated it can't get the nation's fiscal house in order," said U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Chester County, a co-sponsor elected to Congress in 2002.

Asked whether he'd support tax hikes or entitlement cuts if it meant shoring up the country's financial future, Gerlach demurred, saying no specific proposals are before Congress. He added, though, that "some tough choices have to be made."

"If this is the best process to make those choices, let's move forward with it," Gerlach said.

Part of Congress' problem is that it wasn't designed to oversee an operation as large as the federal government has become, said Marvin Goodfriend, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

"Congress was not set up to do what we are asking it to do today," Goodfriend said.

Key to creating the commission are the Blue Dog Democrats, a coalition of fiscally conservative lawmakers that has become something of a third party in recent months, Martin said. The Republican Party has shrunk so much, its members no longer can check Democrat majorities and a Democrat president, he said.

It was the Blue Dog coalition that prevented Congress from passing a health care overhaul before the August recess, as President Obama wanted, Martin said.

"I think at this point, really, the Blue Dogs are virtually the only check on the Democratic Party," Martin said.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Pirates trade for Mariners LHP Happ, Dodgers 1B/OF Morse
  2. Steelers notebook: Officials discuss new game ball procedures
  3. Hurdle: Soria likely to assume setup role with Watson
  4. Pirates place Burnett on 15-day disabled list
  5. Armstrong escapee caught; murder charges pending
  6. Allegheny County DA’s office: Photo of staffer with gun evidence violates protocol
  7. West Kittanning church marks 100 years of ups and downs
  8. Collier police get van, 2 motorcycles for $8K
  9. Huge deficits lead to Penn Hills School District audit
  10. Cranberry Uniting People event to benefit local family
  11. Heyl: Longtime disc jockey Jimmy Roach to turn dismissal into brighter times