Lawmakers Meet To Discuss Deficit

In the midst of the deficit and debt crisis, budget heavyweights gathered in Washington, D.C., to talk about ideas for the future. This includes Bill Clinton, Paul Ryan and most of the late Gang of Six.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

American political heavyweights gathered in Washington today. They met to tackle the biggest problem facing the nation: the massive public debt. The country is so deeply in the red with deficits continuing into the foreseeable future that it threatens the future of the economy.

Today's fiscal summit comes on the heels of a House race in New York that, against the odds, Democrats won. And they won arguably because of the GOP's stance on reforming the budget.

We'll hear more about that New York race in just a moment, first, NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports on today's gathering and the search for debt solutions.

ANDREA SEABROOK: He walked confidently onto the stage, the man who wrote the plan that would privatize Medicare, slash federal funding for everything from education to agriculture, make massive tax cuts permanent and, eventually, balance the budget.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin; Chairman, House Budget Committee): Whenever you put out a reform plan to try and fix this problem, the other party uses it as a political weapon against you.

SEABROOK: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, once the Republicans' golden boy, is now blamed by some for making Republicans lose that special election in upstate New York and for causing that head of steam the GOP had when it took over the House to evaporate. Ryan says the Democrats saw political advantage and ran with it.

Rep. RYAN: In this particular case with Medicare, they're shamelessly demagoguing and distorting this. We call it Mediscare, trying to scare seniors.

SEABROOK: Ryan says only he and House Republicans have put forward a serious plan to get the budget under control, to which President Obama's budget director says...

Mr. GENE SPERLING (Assistant to the President for Economic Policy): We are not criticizing their plan. We are just simply explaining their plan.

SEABROOK: Gene Sperling called it the tyranny of the math. According to nonpartisan political analysts, the seniors of the future would end up paying thousands more every year for the Medicare benefits they have now if the Ryan plan were enacted.

Mr. SPERLING: There is a disconnect between what Chairman Ryan says and what the impact his plans would have for millions of not-so-fortunate Americans.

SEABROOK: And it goes way beyond health care, said Sperling. Every single dollar of federal spending, every government program Americans often take granted is at risk if lawmakers can't get the budget under control. That's what today's fiscal summit was about. The Peter G. Petersen Foundation, a nonpartisan fiscal policy group, brought together some of the most serious and weighty politicians to think out loud about how to solve this problem.

President BILL CLINTON: We have to listen to people who disagree with us.

SEABROOK: Former President Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president to hammer out a tough budget with a Republican Congress.

Pres. CLINTON: It cannot be possible that either the Democrats or the Republicans are always wrong. It cannot be possible that a hundred percent of us are proceeding in bad faith.

SEABROOK: The poisonous political environment, Clinton said, is perhaps the biggest hindrance to solving this problem, a problem critical to almost every American. He said both sides have gone beyond ideology into a kind of political theology: Republicans completely refusing to consider tax increases; Democrats completely refusing to consider serious reforms to Medicare and Medicaid. And it's just not working, Clinton said.

Pres. CLINTON: Look at the job numbers, look at the vested numbers, look at the growth numbers, look at the productivity numbers, look at the numbers. If we can break out of theology and get back to evidence and experience and the aspirations of ordinary people, I think we can have bipartisan cooperation.

SEABROOK: It's the one thing every player at the fiscal summit seemed to agree with. The only way the government, businesses, voters, America is going to get out this hole is if political opponents come together to work out a solution and then hold hands and jump.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.

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