WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is calling the top eight leaders in Congress to The White House on Sunday to continue talks on the national debt and federal deficit while opposing party positions are visible through the hard stances being taken by the Louisiana congressional delegation.
Republicans representing the state said they will oppose a package that includes any tax increases while state Democrats contend new revenue is necessary.
And Republicans from Louisiana don’t believe in the Treasury’s drop-dead date of Aug. 2 to have a deal, they said.
Obama administrators have said the debt ceiling must be raised by then or the nation will default on its loans for the first time, sending the national and world economies into financial chaos.
“It’s more important to get our fiscal house in order than to be blackmailed by threats of Armageddon,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Democrats have offered a reasonable plan. The proposal would tax the rich, reduce corporate tax rates and close offshore tax havens for companies, she said.
“It’s very balanced, it basically closes the deficit and debt, 50 percent on the revenue side and 50 percent on the tax cut side,” Landrieu said. “It gets us closer to a balanced budget.”
But Louisiana GOP members decry any bill that would result in raising revenue through what they consider tax increases.
“Everybody I talk to, business owners, middle class families, their concern in Washington is that we’re spending too much money,” U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, said. “Nobody tells me they’re not paying enough in taxes.”
Creating more revenue, however, will be needed to keep the nation’s three top entitlement programs - Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - solvent, said U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans.
“If we’re going to reduce the deficit and debt, we need more income, which means more revenue,” Richmond said. “To the extent that we can close loopholes and everybody contributes their fair share, then it gives us the ability to do both at the same time and we’re a country that can do both at the same time.”
Obama is asking Congress to raise the amount of money the nation can borrow above its current record $14.3 trillion. Republicans are holding back their vote until more cuts to the federal budget deficit, now a record $1.4 trillion in the hole, can be achieved.
U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Mansfield, doesn’t believe that America will default on its loans and is willing to remain in a stare-down with the Obama administration, he said.
“I’m willing to take the risk to do the right thing,” Fleming said. “The government will pay its obligations; the idea of us defaulting on our loans would not happen under any circumstances.”
Balancing the federal budget should be the top priority, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said
“We can’t put off meaningful cuts for one year or five years or ten years, we need them right now,” Vitter said in a Senate floor speech last week.
That could mean cuts to sacrosanct Republican departments such as defense, which the party has done its best to protect. U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, was elected as one of the renegade freshmen with support from Tea Party activists. Everything needs to be on the table, Landry said.
“Defense is something that is near and dear to me, but it matters not that it’s near and dear to me, it’s prioritizing our needs and wants,” Landry said.
“If you can’t swim and you’re on a boat that is floating, you want a life jacket,” Landry said. “If you can’t swim and it’s sinking, you need a life jacket.”
U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, is concerned about the impact any economic crisis would have on the worth of the dollar, he said. But he opposes any legislation with taxes, he said.
“I just don’t think that we have to do that,” Alexander said. “Everybody in the Congressional Budget Office and everybody else tells us that revenues are not the problem, it’s a spending problem.”
Word leaking out of the talks is that both sides are willing to take steps on an issue that hasn’t occurred in over 20 years: an overhaul of the tax system.
U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, sits on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee that writes the nation’s tax laws. Boustany won’t vote for a tax increase, and overhauling the tax code is a way to address the problem, he said.
“My position is let us do tax reform and do it correctly,” Boustany said. “We think we can lower rates and really simplify and clean up a lot of these loopholes. I think it’s important to understand, who is benefiting from these things and does it promote economic growth?”
Traditionally both sides go nose to nose before coming up with a deal that has, in some cases, gone down to the last minute, such as passing this year’s budget in April. But former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, of Metairie, sees a different climate this year, he said.
An 18-year U.S. House veteran and former Appropriations Committee chairman, Livingston doesn’t see the sides budging.
“My sense is that they would rather have an issue than a settlement,” Livingston said. “I really think both sides are dug in. I’ve not seen it this polarized.”