Senators support spending trims

Udall, Bennet back entitlement, military cuts in proposal

WASHINGTON – As Congress moves to hash out a new budget, Colorado’s senators are pushing for debate about a plan that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion by the end of the decade.

The plan also would entail spending cuts in major programs such as Social Security and Medicare, as well as other controversial measures.

Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, are calling for consideration of the plan, the details of which were proposed by President Obama’s deficit commission, a bipartisan group created last year to offer policy recommendations for balancing the budget.

Udall and Bennet have said the plan includes some difficult yet necessary steps toward fiscal stability.

Some of those steps include deep cuts not only in discretionary spending but also in entitlement and military spending. Other proposals include a higher retirement age, the elimination of some popular tax breaks such as the mortgage-interest deduction and an increase in the gas tax.

However, the plan also includes some more popular proposals, including simplifying the tax code and broadening the tax base.

Udall’s office said although there are some details he disagrees with, overall he supports the commission’s comprehensive blueprint for fixing the budget.

“You can’t (fix the budget) just by cutting discretionary spending,” said Udall’s press representative, Jennifer Talhelm, saying that reforms to discretionary, entitlement and defense spending needed to be addressed together.

The House approved a budget for the rest of the year that would reduce funding by $61 billion by slashing discretionary spending but largely leaves defense and entitlement spending alone. However, House Republicans said their budget for next year will include entitlement reform.

Talhelm said the commission’s bipartisan approval of the plan is a major factor in Udall’s support. Of the members on the commission, 11 out of 18 approved the plan. The vote fell three short of the 14 needed to send it to Congress for a vote, but garnered support from such ideological opposites as Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Bennet, as Udall, also is pushing for debate about the plan, and is part of a bipartisan group of senators led by Mark Warner, D-Va., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., that are calling for an up-or-down vote on the commission’s recommendations.

He addressed some of the more painful recommendations at Tuesday’s Senate Banking Committee hearing with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, questioning how painless they would seem in the present compared with down the line.

“One of the things that I worry about is that if the capital markets decide one day that they don’t want to buy our debt at the price that they’re now buying it, that the result of that is going to be catastrophic,” Bennet said. “With the federal government’s balance sheet, there’s no room for a policy response at that point.

“The sooner we get after it, the less painful it’s actually ultimately going to be and the more likely we are to protect ourselves,” he said.

Some projections put the deficit for 2011 at $1.6 trillion.

Karen Frantz is an American University student and an intern for The Durango Herald. She can be reached at herald@durangoherald.com.

A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the final quotations. They were spoken by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. The error was made in editing.